This is the story of Willie Dunne, an innocent, who goes away to war not understanding fully what is involved but determined to do his bit. Written by Sebastian Barry in 2005 and nominated for the Booker Prize, it is the tender tale of a young Irish man who volunteers for the British army and ends up in Belgium.
Set against the background of the Easter Rising, Willie does not fully understand the political implications of what is happening around him. He is born in Dublin, as a baby “he was like the thin upper arm of a beggar with a few meagre bones shot through him, provisional and bare.” Barry’s language throughout is a delight, something I didn’t expect when the book is about the worst of trench warfare. Barry does not spare punches, at times the action and conditions he describes brought me close to tears, but I read on, pulled forwards by Willie’s life force.
He travels to new places, “ravished by the simple joy of seeing new places of the earth.” This joy unravels when arrives at the trenches. “The biggest thing there was the roaring of Death and the smallest thing was a man. Bombs not so far off distressed the earth of Belgium, disgorged great heaps of it, and did everything except kill him immediately, as he half-expected them to do.” And all the time he longs from Gretta, his girl at home. “He was in love with Gretta like a poor swan was in love with the Liffey and cannot leave it.”
This is the second book I’ve read on my ‘World War One books to read before 2018’ list [the first was John Boyne’s Stay Where You Are & Then Leave, read my review here.
If the rest are as good as these two, a treat lays in store. I will be reading more by Sebastian Barry.
If you like this, try:-
‘The Lie’ by Helen Dunmore
‘Life Class’ by Pat Barker
‘Wake’ by Anna Hope
‘A Long Long Way’ by Sebastian Barry [UK: Faber] Buy now
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An innocent who goes to war: A LONG LONG WAY by Sebastian Barry #bookreview via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-Bx