Read A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry Online


Praised as a “master storyteller” (The Wall Street Journal) and hailed for his “flawless use of language” (Boston Herald), Irish author and playwright Sebastian Barry has created a powerful new novel about divided loyalties and the realities of war.In 1914, Willie Dunne, barely eighteen years old, leaves behind Dublin, his family, and the girl he plans to marry in order toPraised as a “master storyteller” (The Wall Street Journal) and hailed for his “flawless use of language” (Boston Herald), Irish author and playwright Sebastian Barry has created a powerful new novel about divided loyalties and the realities of war.In 1914, Willie Dunne, barely eighteen years old, leaves behind Dublin, his family, and the girl he plans to marry in order to enlist in the Allied forces and face the Germans on the Western Front. Once there, he encounters a horror of violence and gore he could not have imagined and sustains his spirit with only the words on the pages from home and the camaraderie of the mud-covered Irish boys who fight and die by his side.  Dimly aware of the political tensions that have grown in Ireland in his absence, Willie returns on leave to find a world split and ravaged by forces closer to home. Despite the comfort he finds with his family, he knows he must rejoin his regiment and fight until the end. With grace and power, Sebastian Barry vividly renders Willie’s personal struggle as well as the overwhelming consequences of war....

Title : A Long Long Way
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780571231829
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 292 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

A Long Long Way Reviews

  • Violet wells
    2019-03-13 16:53

    This novel about the experiences of an Irish private during WW1 didn’t really engage me until about the half way point when it did massively improve. Firstly, I felt the author bluffed his way a bit through WW1 – sacrificing detail to abstractions, which meant I never quite felt myself in the boots of a private on a WW1 battlefield. And the grandiose biblical (Hemingwayesque) prose style dwarfed the characters for me, turned them into puppets which maybe was clever as what else were all those young men who lost their lives in that daft war? Like Days without End the characters were for me the weakest part of the novel. Again, Barry chooses as his focus a good-natured blank canvas of a character, Willie; again, he tends to idealise and sentimentalise relationships. That said, in the second part of the novel, I did begin to warm to Willie’s relationships with his male mentors – his father, his commanding officer, his Sergeant Major and Father Buckley, the chaplain. He also has a sweetheart who inflicts on him a kind of Old Testament punishment for a misdemeanor which shows brilliantly the gulf between her domestic reality and his nightmare frontline reality. As a backdrop, the novel also dramatises the Irish rising for Home Rule. This was nicely done. However, I’m not sure it really added anything to my understanding of WW1 or the Irish problem. Essentially, it’s a story about one young man’s loyalties and loves with a thunderous historical backdrop – rather like Days Without End in other words. I enjoyed it, but I don’t think it’ll live long in my memory.

  • Cathrine ☯️
    2019-03-08 18:55

    5★A sorrowful, gut-wrenching tale of the horrors of WWI and the boys who went off to fight for “King and Country” hoping to come into their “bloody manhood at last.” The author expertly leads the reader through gruesome warfare in the trenches with beautiful prose and likable but doomed characters. The dawn and horror of chemical warfare makes its deadly debut:“The gas boiled in like a familiar ogre. With the same stately gracelessness it rolled to the edge of parapet and then like the heads of a many-headed creature it toppled gently forward and sank down to join the waiting men . . . The evil gas lay sown in the trench like a bedspread, and as more gas came over it filled the trench to the brim and passed on then its ghostly hordes to the support lines and the reserve lines, ambitious for choice murders.”That’s just the beginning as Barry will not spare the reader the horror that comes and I do not use that word lightly. Young boys from Ireland are fighting only to learn that at the same time others back home are battling for Home Rule during the Easter Rising. They will arrive home on leave only to be thought traitors worth killing by some and then return to the front for more killing of their own.Deserving of 5 stars but the subject matter and inevitable outcome sucked the life right out of my soul. Based on my emotional state it rates the 1 star—I did not like it but the writing, the writing, the writing. I have never read a better book on the devastation of war and I never want to read another one like it—ever.Afterwards:Imagine . . . if they had a war and no-one showed up? It just confounds me how many generations of young men have been willing to forfeit their precious lives and others continue to manufacture and use such malevolent weapons to this day. Unbelievably I saw a promotional video Men of War - MUSTARD GAS for online gaming. Perhaps guys like the one who commented “Good job! Can you make a poison-thrower, just like the flame-thrower? That would be very cool” should read this book. #gladofmywomanhood #bookslikethisbreakmyheart

  • Steve
    2019-02-28 15:57

    Certain mental images can be a little too vivid. When it comes to WW1, the permamuck of the trenches, the seared throats from deadly gases, and the pants-soiling horror of seeing a comrade’s detached body parts inches away are associations powerful enough to shut us down. There’s only so far we can extend our comprehension in the face of palpable terror. So how does a good author milk it a little more, getting us past the autonomic desensitization and back into the boots of shared experience? In Sebastian Barry’s case he creates a character so earnest and eager to please that he seems custom-built as an empathy magnet. The fully realized inner life of Willie Dunne (the 18-year-old central figure, a Dubliner gone off to fight England’s war) combined with a fascinating account of the politics of Irish Home Rule made for quite a story. It was beautifully written, too. Barry deserved his acclaim, short-listed for a Booker.Willie loved and respected his father, a policeman and loyal supporter of the crown. At 5’6” tall, Willie was not allowed to join his 6’6” da in the police force (Sir Francis Galton’s regression-to-the-mean effect overshot in this case). Aching for respect, Willie signed up to fight the Germans in the name of the King. The word was that Irish Home Rule would be granted after these volunteers fought in common cause alongside the English. Willie also had to leave his girlfriend behind along with his youthful innocence. It didn’t take long after the grand send-off to realize what we all already knew: war sucks. Barry’s descriptions were realistic and mortifying. We’re made to care about the men even more for getting to know them as people – real, sentient beings with personalities and aspirations. A scene that really got to me was one where some middle-ranking, tough-as-nails guy named Christy, seemingly against type, had a soft spot for music. He was temporarily at peace with the world when Willie sang Ave Maria.Willie was given furlough for the Easter holiday. It was a short, happy stay, but there was a massive confusion just as he was reporting back – gunshots, and not ones coming from Germans. It was the Easter Rising of 1916 where Irishmen who wanted Home Rule faster and more assuredly than England would likely deliver rose up against them. Willie and his fellow soldiers were asked to quell the uprising. Our politically naïve protagonist had his eyes opened. The remainder of the book had new conflicts to add to a mix that already seemed saturated with them. Willie’s ambivalence about the English cause didn’t set well with his father. Sentiment in Ireland had swung against the Dublin Fusiliers that Willie felt duty-bound to stick with to the end. Nor did the English command give them much respect. (I wanted to tell a certain Major Stokes to stick it in his hole when he said, “What, you Irish couldn’t stand a little gas?”) And as if that wasn’t enough, our young hero had girl troubles, too. The worst part of it all was how little of it Willie deserved. He was such a good kid.Stories like this need to end the way authors want them to – with readers reading their books to find out, not with overzealous reviewers spilling the beans. The only thing I’ll add is that an emotional involvement on the reader’s part is likely.On a personal note, my wife and I celebrated our 30th anniversary with a trip to Ireland. The love of literature there, and of words in general (even away from the pubs) was one of the great things about the place. They enjoy their history, too, with plenty of it around to engage them. We learned a lot about the Easter Rising visiting the General Post Office where much of the rebellion took place. Later we saw Kilmainham Gaol where many of the rebel leaders were imprisoned and in some cases executed.The gaol has been featured in several films including The Italian Job (the original one), Michael Collins, and In the Name of the Father. U2 also filmed a video there, with Bono looking very much like a man of the 80s.4.5 stars

  • Dem
    2019-03-04 20:59

    A long long way written by Sebastian Barry was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2005 and tells an amazing and extremely well written story.This is the third novel I have read by Barry and have to say he is fast becoming one of my favourite writers.This is the story of Willie Dunne who at the age of eighteen is too short to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a policeman in Dublin but who is old enough to volunteer and fight for England in World War 1. ,and so Willie leaves behind Dublin, his family and the girl he plans to marry to enlist in the allied forces in the Great War, partly to prove himself a man and please his father. At the time of the first world war there was an understanding among the Irish people that Ireland would gain Home Rule within the coming few years and young men like Willie Dunne took up the cause to fight for King, Country and Empire against the Germans in the hope that this would further their cause while another section of Irish refused to fight for England and they instead took up Arms in the Rising of 1916 in Dublin to gain Irish freedom. While Willie Dunne and the Dublin Fusiliers suffer abroad, Dublin City is suffering during the Easter Rising and men like Willie Dunne and his comrades are thought of and regarded as traitors by their fellow countrymen. Having recently visited Kilmainham Gaol where the executions in May 1916 of fourteen of the leaders of the failed 1916 Easter Rising took place and having the tour information and pictures of the executed men fresh in my head I was emotionally and factually ready for a novel of this depth.This is a tough read and certainly not for the faint hearted so if you get put off by horrific scenes of war and vulgar and brutal happenings then this is not the novel for you but this certainly is account of war that that takes you right into the trenches with young Willie Dunne and his comrades and you experience a teensy tiny bit of their fear and their anguish and the squalor and the camaraderie of the men who both fight and die side by side.A 5 star rating for me and a book that will stay with me.

  • Howard
    2019-03-01 17:05

    It’s a long way to TipperaryIt’s a long way to go.It’s a long way to little Mary To the sweetest girl I know!Goodbye, Piccadilly,Farewell, Leicester Square!It’s a long way to Tipperary,But my heart’s right there.World War I, the Great War as it was then known, has produced some outstanding novels recounting the horrific, mind-numbing, dehumanizing experiences of common soldiers locked in the death grip of trench warfare. In the past year I have read two of those books (Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden and Fear by Gabriel Chevallier) and reread another (All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque). These stories are told from the perspective of three different nationalities – Canadian, French, and German, respectively – but they share the common theme of ignoring grand strategy and spending little time on tactics, while devoting most of their attention to the common soldier. And the experiences of the soldiers in the trenches, no matter their nationality, differed very little.True, I had read a great deal about the French and the Germans in that conflict, and not as much about the Canadians, but A Long Long Way was truly a learning experience.I had never given much any thought to the Irish role in the war, and in fact little has been written about it. I knew about the Irish revolt, what came to be called the Easter Rising, against the British in 1916, but I had never stopped to consider the fact that at the same time there were Irish soldiers in the British army fighting for King and Country and Empire.A Long Long Way is the story of those Irish soldiers, particularly through the eyes of Willie Dunne, who joined the army at age seventeen. They were young men who were placed in a no-win situation. Some were devoted loyalists to king and country, while others favored home rule for their land; while both joined the British army to fight the Germans, their long-range goals differed. Unfortunately, the English, on one hand, perceived them all to be potential – or even actual – mutineers while the Irish nationalists on the other hand considered them all to be traitors for serving in the British army. Laura Barber writes in The Guardian:"Willie, and the men like him, went to war not so much to fight against the Germans, but to fight for their country, only to find that the most deadly enemy came from their own side and that the Ireland they had grown up believing in had dissolved behind them ‘like sugar in the rain.’" Like the other three books mentioned earlier, A Long Long Way is a story of horror and heartbreak, with the most graphic description of horrific poison gas attacks that I have ever read in a work of fiction or nonfiction. In other words, like all great war novels, it is an anti-war story. Threatened as we are today by war after war and by the knee jerk, unexamined beliefs that take us there, it is books such as A Long Long Way that can force us to examine not only our own beliefs, but to reflect on the beliefs of those that we choose to lead us. Sebastian Barry was first and foremost a poet and a playwright before becoming a novelist and it shows in his prose:"… good general or bad, everything ended always in the ghastly tally of wrenching deaths. His head was heavy now, sore as a boxer’s, he wanted to have the matter explained to him, he wanted God Himself to come down to where they were talking there, and tell them what could be set against the numberless deaths, to stop their minds inwardly weeping, like cottages without roofs in a filthy rain."-----------------------------------------"Through the character of Willie Dunne … Barry allows us not so much to imagine the war as to inhabit it, and in doing so, he has created a modern masterpiece." – The Boston Globe"With disarming lyricism, Barry’s novel leads the reader into a hellish no-man’s-land, where the true madness of war can only be felt and understood rather than said." – The Observer

  • Julie
    2019-03-11 20:18

    The best book I've read in a handful of years.I was moved, beyond words, by the lyrical beauty of the prose in this novel, and by the way it shredded every sentimental thought I'd ever had about the First World War -- the sentimentality of bravery and morality and justice and incorruptibility. Barry's book created fresh wounds within me, and healed them later within the same paragraph, only to create a general ache and heartbreak for an entire generation that was lost. Our young protagonist was born in "the dying days" of an old century, mewling his way into a stormy night that was neither spectacular, nor noteworthy. In these words, Barry presages the manner in which our young man will find his way out of this life. Neither spectacular, nor noteworthy, yet Willie Dunne's death, encapsulates the monstrous expenditure of youth and vigour and potential that all went to hell in the fields of Flanders.Barry has managed, somehow, to put into prose Wilfred Owen's Anthem for Doomed YouthWhat passing-bells for these who die as cattle? — Only the monstrous anger of the guns. Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattleCan patter out their hasty orisons.No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells; And bugles calling for them from sad shires.What candles may be held to speed them all? Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyesShall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes. The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.Within the length of a novel, he has managed to retain every punch to the head, heart, stomach, that the original poem delivers, and still retain the impact of the original.While Barry also manages to explore the percussion beat of the Easter Uprising, and deal handily with the implications of Irish men fighting as English soldiers, the novel nonetheless remains as a universal condemnation of war, and does not sink into partisan politics, for the sake of it. There is always the bigger question looming above the heads of all -- whatever nationality -- why are we here at all? Addendum:While it took me a week to read (unheard of for books I love) it was a book I could neither put down, nor read in one gulp. I resented every minute that I was away from it, and at the same time found myself reading slowly when I did pick it up, savouring every word, pondering every thought, stopping for long pauses between sections, or even paragraphs, to fully appreciate what Barry was saying. An astounding book. It should be as a must-read in army training camps, and in every high school in the world. A simple message, delivered simply and beautifully, with the impact of a sledgehammer.

  • Chrissie
    2019-03-18 14:11

    On completion:I thoroughly loved this book. I finished listening to it and was desperate for more. I re-listened to the last chapters. Then I thought, I simply cannot leave this book! I searched to see what other books Sebastian Barry has written. This is the first of a trilogy followed by first Annie Dunne and then On Canaan's Side. I read what these books were about. The central theme of these books diverge; they are not about WW1. And this is the topic that I want more of. So I checked out The Absolutist and even listened to the narration at Audible. Again I felt let down. John Cormack's narration of "A Long, Long Way" had been superb, The snippet of "The Absolutist" just could not compare. Was it the narrator that I had fallen in love with? I listened to other books narrated by Cormack........but they were not what I wanted to listen to either. And here I sit, feeling desolate and sad, because I want more of the same. I want Cormack's narration and Barry's prose. I don't want to leave the camaraderie of the troops in the trenches of Belgium, near Ypres. Isn't it utterly strange that I do not want to leave the battlefields of WW1?! That is the truth of the matter, strange as it may seem.None of the other books I have read about WW1 have moved me as this has. I believe I understand what that warfare was like. It was horrible. When the war ended, it didn't really end. All who lived through it would never be the same. To understand the war itself you must look further than the blood and bombs and gas and grime and lice and all the physical horror of it. There is still more. There was also what the soldiers shared with each other. This is something very hard to comprehend to those of us who have not fought in wars. This book shows you how the soldiers intimately depended, needed and relied on each other. I am so shaken by the ending that I don't know what to say. I have no complaints. There is nothing I would change about this book.How do I sum up my feelings? This book has beautiful lines, and they are lines filled with meaning, imparting a poignant message. This is a book about WW1 and a book about Ireland's place in that war. Excellent writing by Barry. Excellent narration by Cormack!******************************Read with Barbara and Dawn. Here follow links to their reviews so you can follow our discussions:Dawn: thoughts, as I read, are added below. Through chapter 6, part one: This is excellent. The writing is superb! For me how an author chooses and lines up his words is very important. The Irish dialect and dialogs are spot-on. And I love how horrid stuff is mixed with beauty and camaraderie and humor. All of it seems genuine. The narration, audiobook by John Cormack, has such "oh-so-perfect" Irish!!!! This narrator has to be added to my favorites list, at least for Irish literature.Through part one:I have yet to read a text that so brilliantly describes mustard gas. The first time the yellow fog crept along the ground the soldiers had no idea what it was. Their fear and their instinctive horror engulfs the reader. Then imagine their fear when they know its consequences and it's used again and again and again. This is frightening to read. To the end of part one: Imagine fighting a war for country and family, only to discover that at home your efforts are not appreciated! Originally the Irish went off to war in the belief that Home Rule would follow at the conclusion of the war. But then there broke off a splinter group that opposed any fighting done for the King, the oppressor, he who stood in the way of Home Rule. They wanted guarantees of Home Rule before they would do any fighting for the English king! In Dublin, Irishmen were fighting and killing Irishmen. It became a civil battle between the Irishmen themselves. Those, such as Willie Dunn, fighting and dying in Flanders, were despised. Try and imagine how this would feel! As if the war itself wasn't enough! Barry adds this to the horrors of the trench warfare in Belgium. Yes, we are fighting, but for what? ETA: To understand this history I had to listen to one part over and over again. This is the only portion of the book where the dialect caused me some confusion. I am not sure if the language was cryptic, if I was being obtuse or if quite simply I was was obstinately demanding a thorough explanation of the historical events all summed up in one short dialog. I have this need to thoroughly understand the historical facts. I am satisfied. The historical context is made a bit confusing because Willie is terribly confused and cannot comprehend why the Irish are fighting the Irish when he goes to Dublin on furlough. In chapter eight: Two things I would like to praise. Again, Barry highl Irish conflict in the war. The Irish rarely were given high positions in the army. They were judged on another scale. He showed the English disdain for the Irish men when Willie is sent to headquarters with a message from his captain after a gas attack. The dialog really ripped me apart and made me want to punch some of those English, particularly Major "Stoker". (I am guessing at the spelling!) Again I must explain how much I like the writing style, particularly the brogue of the men in the trenches and the total lack of melodrama. There is a level tone, a distance to how the events are related. This lack of melodrama makes the horror of the war seem even worse because you realize these are the true events with not a smidgen of exaggeration. There is a tinge of irony, disgust of human folly. Yes, Willie admitted, when the officers said that the little Irishman stunk,indeed he had soiled his trousers. Due to fright.... This could be admitted. Anyone who had been in the trenches during the gas attack must acknowledge the blatant truth.Through chapter fourteen and part two: Chapter fourteen is moving, grim and a very difficult portion to read.This is trench warfare with all its gore and horror. Tell me, Barbara and Dawn, how you react to this chapter?Willie wished, as he marches forward under the exploding bombs of both enemy and friendly fire, that he were provided with blinkers as a horse on the road. The sights and smells and cacophony were so overpowering. Here follows a short quote: How easily men were dismembered. How quickly their parts were un-stitched. What this war needed were men made of steel.....The hopelessness of it all struck him with force:No one man had done anything but piss his trousers in terror.I admire the privates and their captain who must lead these men forward. Barry even throws in the absurdity of all the papers these captains must fill in. He has captured so many aspects of warfare. The filth, the food, the camaraderie, the desolation, fear and even bureaucracy! These are my thoughts as I read this chapter.

  • Julie Christine
    2019-03-07 17:04

    This was short-listed for the 2005 Man Booker. I'm certain it will be among my top five reads of 2008.It's the story of a young Irish soldier caught between the warfields of Belgium and the battle raging at home between the royalists and the nationalists. It's the most graphic and revealing treatment of WWI I've encountered- particularly of trench warfare and the horrors of mustard gas. It amazes me that anyone survived and sickens me how hundreds of thousands of young men were simply led to slaughter by colluding governments.Despite the grim brutality of the subject, the writing is so lyrical and beautiful, the characters so full of hope and spirit. Portions of it read almost like poetry, yet the language is simple and earthy.I was frustrated by the glimpses of the 1916 Easter Uprising and the conflict that set Irish against Irish- as if the reader already had a tacit understanding of that history and its nuances. I was confused as to who was on which side (in Ireland)- but then again, that was/is the tragedy of the conflict in Ireland- the division of a country was really the division of villages, friends and families.But bottom line- it's an incredible book, devastating and beautiful. I cried at the end, even though I knew what was coming. And I cried for the lives that were lost, and for those who continue to be sacrificed in the name of power, greed and moral certainty. War is inexcusable.

  • Teresa
    2019-03-04 16:12

    A strong 4 and 1/2 starsAs with Colm Tóibín, but in a completely different manner, Sebastian Barry's strongest suit is the portrayal of the inner lives of his characters. And what we understand the most about his main character in this novel, Willie Dunne, is the love he feels for his family and, amidst all the chaos and horror of the Great War, the love he has for his comrades, no matter their differences. It was hard to read the one paragraph when he realizes he misses them all. It is the "little" encounters of humanity that are the most heartbreaking.Barry conveys perfectly the irrationality and chaos of war; and never lets us forget that the numbers killed on either side, no matter what nationality the man was, each represent a once-living, vibrant individual with a personal history. It's a wonder anyone came out of this war (or any war) alive; and if they did, it's completely understandable that they wouldn't be (and maybe couldn't be) sane afterwards.I've read only a little of WWI fiction (the Regeneration trilogy by Pat Barker is all I can recall) and the descriptions of life in the trenches and the mustard gas rolling in and the mud and the rain and the explosions and the fear are as gritty and harrowing as any of the WWII fiction that I've read more of. It's almost unbearable for the reader at certain points, but we always have the solace and beauty of Barry's words, and we are grateful for the respite.

  • Fionnuala
    2019-02-18 14:57

    This was really successful in its description of life in the trenches. Barry conveys the futility of war just as clearly as Tolstoy did in War and Peace, but through the innocent thoughts of a bottom rank soldier instead of via the experiences of more privileged upper class individuals. Willie Dunne is credible and likeable and that allows the reader to stick with him even when the descriptions of the day to day conditions of life in the trenches become unbearable. There are some wonderful and memorable portraits of other soldiers too; the sargent from Cork, the gunner from Mayo, the army chaplin and several more. I particularly liked the way Barry wove the 1916 events in Dublin through the larger story of WW1. The story worked less well for me when Barry tried to inject some melodrama by means of Willie's sweetheart in Dublin. She was too sketchy a character, a paper and ink doll who failed to stand up, and the plot Barry built around her didn't seem credible to me. I have had a similar experience with other Barry books; his need to add extra plot twists can sometimes spoil an otherwise great reading experience.

  • Steelwhisper
    2019-02-23 19:14

    Well, I wished I could give this at least 2 stars, but I can't get myself to do so. I'm quite thoroughly exasperated and riled in too many ways to do so. There will be spoilers; be warned if you open them you'll know the end.Maybe there are writers who are capable of doing away with basic writing rules and coming up with a good book, but Barry certainly is not the one in my personal opinion. I was dead tired of his pretentious prose and ceaseless cliched or overly smart similes after the first half dozen pages. His God-style narrative was all over the place, prattling about and preening like some senile auntie with a bad case of lingual diarrhea. If there was a way to use just one adverb in a sentence, Barry found it in himself to use two or even three instead, and he was exactly as plentiful with his adjectives. If he didn't use irritating similes, it were metaphors or even more convoluted structures. Foreshadowing was done with such a heavy hand that you spotted it when it happened and groaned when it was borne out. There wasn't a clean or elegant sentence in the whole book. In consequence this created a fog of distraction and drivel separating me quite thoroughly from the characters. I didn't care fig about any of them(view spoiler)[, even Willie's death left me completely cold, especially as cheap tricks, such as a suddenly procured petty letter from a soldier pal (which wouldn't ever have made it through censoring, even if anyone at the time would have behaved like that!) and a near miss with the relevant hospital stay and the golden-hearted nurse, were used to dramatise it (hide spoiler)].The plot was a dime a dozen, even though the angle of the Irish volunteers could have been used to create a good, a different war novel. Barry used this instead for cheap parlour tricks, such as adding artificial conflicts and drama to the book's end. It's the story told so many times: virginal boy volunteers for silly or idealistic reasons, finds his manhood, death, fear, terror and heroism over the next years, sees his share of atrocities and stupidities (view spoiler)[and is killed the last moment for his own foolishness of committing a needless humane act, of course without being able to make it up with his father as another tearjerking device (hide spoiler)].There wasn't a WWI cliche Barry didn't exploit, such as the SAD, singing at Christmas, faithless family and friends at home, but it has all been done much better by others. Particularly exasperating were the factual errors which riddled the book, such as the repeated mention of mustard gas employed long before it was manufactured, with its effects being faultily described as well. Actions which would have resulted in quite different consequences in the real army, and representations (SAD) which belittled and denied what took place in reality.Something which really got my goat is how Barry "dumbed down" everything to represent a commoner/working class lad. That was done in such an arrogant manner, that I found it setting my teeth on edge. Barry's fascination with penises, peckers, clap-ridden whores (another gimmick) and soldiers pissing and shitting themselves didn't add realism, at least not the way he wrote it. Instead it just came over as another abuse of data.I never developed any attachment to one of the characters in this book, no sympathy, no compassion or pity. I never found myself caring about what took place, and the many described atrocities bored me. The whole book was reeking with self-love and self-agenda, borne out by the repeated use of cheap manipulations instead of honest storytelling.Something which needs specific address:Barry did not write men of 1914-1918, he wrote modern men and how they would have behaved transposed to former time. There were so many instances where the behaviour he described was quite clearly modern (e.g. the backstabbing petty reaction of one of his pals, but also the open and acknowledged fear, something people then didn't do, the behaviour of the Irish SAD), that this was a constant itch while I read.Without the facts got so wrong and a more sympathetic treatment of the main character I might have given this 2*, but needlessly engineering them for the scare and this arrogant treatment of working class people decided me to go with the 1*.And as I feel I have to explain my gripe about style, here some examples of what I talk about:The winter sleet bit into the Dublin cab-men, where they gathered in their mucky gabardines by the Round Room in Great Britain Street. The stony face of the old building remained indifferent, with its strange decoration of ox-skulls and draperies.The new babies screeched inside the thick grey walls of the Rotunda Hospital. Blood gathered on the nurses' white laps like the aprons of butchers.He was a little baby and would be always a little boy. He was like the thin upper arm of a beggar with a few meagre bones shot through him, provisional and bare.When he broke from his mother he made a mewling sound like a wounded cat, over and over. This is the first half page and he manages to cram 3 similes (two tired ones and a pretentious one) and 1 metaphor into a mere 115 words (or 4 sentences). He also manages to foreshadow the threatening war with such a heavy hand, that if this were a cheap movie you'd have foreboding music score right there. That's a feat to do in but 115 words.Here's another example:Death was a muddle of sorts, things thrown in their way to make them stumble and fall. It was hard and hard again to make any path through the humbled souls. The quick rats maybe had had their way with eyes and lips; the sightless sockets peered at the living soldiers, the lipless teeth all seemed to have just cracked mighty jokes. They were seriously grinning. Hundreds more were face down, and turned on their sides, as if not interested in such awful mirth, showing the gashes where missing arms and legs had been, their breasts torn away, and hundreds and hundres of floating hands, and legs, and big heavy puddles of guts and offal, all mixed through the loam and sharded vegetation. And as solid as the ruined flesh was the smell, a stench of a million rotted pheasants, that settled on their tongues like a liquid. Now compare this big sauce of words meant to describe the horrors of death and carnage with a mere few short sentences written by Guy Chapman, who actually was there and describes practically the same basic scene of walking across a field of dead:My eye caught something white and shining. I stooped. It was the last five joints of a spine. There was nothing else, no body, no flesh.One is the description of someone enamoured with his own voice, the other is spare, truly horrific and restrained elegance driving home the salient point of it.I could give further examples, but I think this is quite enough to illustrate what I talk about.

  • Barbara
    2019-03-11 19:51

    Buddy read with Dawn & Chrissie.Several years ago, during a weekend sojourn, my husband and I stayed at an inn. We were unexpectedly treated by an Irish group, who sang and played wonderful, captivating music. Part of this entertainment was a storyteller, who enthralled us with his lyrical presentation. Why do I mention this? I have barely started this book, yet I feel Sebastian Barry singing to me, with his soft, pleasant brogue. It shines through!I do not like to generalize, but are there many better narrators of tales than these folks?I am sure there will be more for me to say as I progress with this Buddy-Read!***********************************************************As I read this profound, often chilling book, the words of this familiar poem often entered my mind. IN FLANDERS FIELDS POEMThe World’s Most Famous WAR MEMORIAL POEMBy Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae In Flanders fields the poppies blowBetween the crosses, row on row,That mark our place: and in the skyThe larks still bravely singing flyScarce heard amid the guns below. We are the dead: Short days ago,We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,Loved and were loved: and now we lieIn Flanders fields! Take up our quarrel with the foeTo you, from failing hands, we throwThe torch: be yours to hold it highIf ye break faith with us who die,We shall not sleep, though poppies growIn Flanders fieldsComposed at the battlefront on May 3, 1915 during the second battle of Ypres, BelgiumAs I stated earlier, I have buddy read this with Chrissie and Dawn. Since my progress lagged far behind the others and I agree with most of what they have said, I will not attempt to embellish their statements. I will simply add some random thoughts.My uncle (through marriage) hailed from Leeds and was in the army during WWI. He was a lovely, scholarly, witty and open man. I thought of him often during my reading of Barry's narratives, because our uncle had the horrifying experience of being gassed and left in a ditch for two days. Fortunately, he recovered, but he remained in a hospital for a year. No other account which I have read, or seen in a film could parallel the clarity and brutality seen in these chapters.My other thoughts turned to returning soldiers following the Viet Nam War. Willie's and his countrymen's experiences seem chillingly akin to those of our own veterans. They were physically and emotionally bruised after service to their country and were shunned.I had filled pages of notes to add to my comments, but I am abandoning that endeavor. This book was difficult for me. It was sad, it was cruel and it was amazingly realistic. Barry's lyrical language and his insights into the human psyche were remarkable. His portrayal of war has left me grieving.

  • Hugh
    2019-02-18 16:10

    An impressive and very moving book on the lives of Irish soldiers in World War One and the harsh treatment of veterans by the Republicans. Barry's books all tell parts of the story of the same extended family.

  • Tara
    2019-03-01 17:14

    Well, this is rather yucky, but I'll be honest: this is the only book I have ever read where, upon conclusion, I was sick. I finished it on a break at work, rocked back and forth in tears, went back to work, promptly turned back around to the bathroom, quietly cried and threw up, went back to work very subdued, then headed home and stared out the window in utter exhaustion. That might not seem an enthusiastic recommendation, but really, it should be. This book was pretty shattering, pretty beautiful, pretty ... I don't know, would old C.S. say Tao or Beneficial? Something in the way Barry uses words, the way he sees every person, be they good or bad, with this graceful, almost tormenting empathy ... well, after he creates that pity and then the universe comes in and smashes up against everything, you kinda want to throw up. Still, I think this is one of the best books I've ever read. You should read it too - and hey, at least now you've been forewarned.

  • Em
    2019-03-03 15:16

    Sometimes, I find the books I love the most are the most difficult to formulate a review for.The book is about an Irish volunteer fighting in World War One, I thought it was interesting to read a story from an Irish perspective, quite enlightening in many ways - the turmoil at home as well as that in Europe and the prejudice that existed against Irish soldiers.I just found so much to admire within the pages of A Long, Long Way, chief among them is the stunningly, jaw-droppingly evocative way that Sebastian Barry describes things:Lungnaquilla is described as "the folds and folds of its great hills, like a gigantic pudding not ever to be entirely folded in" the sunset as "the sun was falling off the edge of the world like a burning man"What will stay with me is the terror of trench warfare, gas attacks, the meloncholy, the affection and love for family and the awakening of political awareness, friendship and trust, growing up, becoming a man. In the end, the book just about broke my heart. A book like this is why I read.

  • Eamon Doody
    2019-02-20 15:53

    It is nearly 100 years since the start of the First World War I. In my country (Ireland) it is nearly 100 years since the defining moment in our War of Independance - the Easter 1916 Rising. Both of these wars took the lives of many Irishmen - and made widows of a generation of Irish women.For much of the last 100 years Irish "patriotism" only allowed a full acknowledgement of those that died in "Irelands cause". The fallen Irish sons at Gallipoli, the Somme & Pasachendaele have too often been ignored or worse been portrayed as somehow less "Irish" for dying in a foriegn war. My country built a War memorial shortly after the war - but it took almost 90 years for the state to officially hold a rememberance ceremony there at the 90th anniversary of the Somme (2006).Over 200,000 Irishmen volunteered for the Irish regiments in WW1 - and many more Irish born men living in England joined British units. All were true volunteers - since conscription was never enforced in Ireland. The war dead lists over 50,000 Irish - 1 in 4 of all that joined. It is difficult to argue that any work of fiction could make up for such real life neglect by the Irish nation and Irish people. However I think that this wonderful book does remind us of the brave decisions made by our volunteers. The book also presents in a visceral way the physical and mental horrors of the war. And it does all of this while presenting a very human story and a very sympathetic character in Willie Dunne. And Sebastian Barrys writing style is unforced and accessible.This is a great work of Irish fiction and I am sure it will stand the test of time. It should have won the Booker - but probably wasn't quite literary enough. I am sure it will be read long after "The Sea" falls out of print.I believe there is a movie in the works. I hope they remain true to the spirit of this beautiful story and to the the larger story of the real 200,000 volunteers and that they further honour the memory of the 50,000 fallen heroes.

  • Dawn (& Ron)
    2019-03-07 12:51

    Buddy read with Chrissie and Barbara. Edit: Steelwhisper will be joining in with her thoughts too.I don't have time for a full review yet but just wanted to get this out while it was dancing around in my head.This is a book that sits on your heart and presses upon your mind. Each incident is linked. Small things can become big and big things can become small and circle back around again; Christy's medal, the tongue-less girl, Gretta, Father Buckley, Major Stokes, "Stille Nacht, Heilage Nacht" and letters and memories between a father and son.Barry shows WWI in a new way, a way I hadn't really seen. He also shows a new type of bravery. The emotional bravery of the last two letters and the bigger bravery of fighting when it seems no one cares. This quote sum up WWI. "The whole world had come out to decide some muddled questions, and Death in delight rubbed his bloody hands."And this sums up the Irish soldier in WWI. "Between your own countrymen deriding you for being in the army, and the army deriding you for your own slaughter, a man didn't know what to be thinking."More to come later, once I let this soak in and sort out my feelings and notes."I don't care what a man thinks as long as he knows his own mind.""The curse of the world is people thinking thoughts that are only thoughts which have been given to them"(9)

  • Allan
    2019-03-11 16:58

    This book somehow passed me by on release, but I received it as a gift from a GR friend at Christmas who knows my tastes well, and was massively impressed by it.Combining the horrors of war for the ordinary private with the added complication of being an Irish soldier in the trenches as the country reacts to the Rising and its aftermath, the book is so powerful in its blunt portrayal of life and death in the trenches, as well as behind the lines and at home. One that will live long in the memory.

  • ☕Laura
    2019-02-22 15:51

    The writing in this book was just beautiful, but I have realized that war stories really aren't my thing. It was a bit of a slog for me making my way through this, as the vast majority of the book takes place on the battlefield. I will absolutely read more by this author, though, as I did love the writing itself.

  • Logan
    2019-03-12 19:06

    Tragic and heavy novel focusing on an Irish private fighting in World War I. In general, I enjoyed the book, however I found the dialogue stunted and the characters distant. I always felt like I was in a fog while reading it.

  • Katrisa
    2019-02-25 18:57

    A beautifully written book about the Irish fighting in the first World War. Before this book, I hadn't really put together that the Irish fight for Home Rule was taking place during WWI.

  • Frank O'connor
    2019-02-17 19:03

    Barry is one for the set piece and the convoluted sentence. He deploys the kind of sentences that everyone is told to avoid in writing school. His lines come laden with adjectives, distorted, oblique and sometimes shaded in purple. It's the kind of thing I would normally avoid, but Barry carries it off so well that it's easy to be seduced into the rhythm of the thing. It's clear that he's making his sentences do things, like notes on a register, each one written with a carefully deployed key that strikes in the right way for the context.The story is episodic, but this is hardly surprising given that it's about the experiences of an Irish volunteer in the great war. The set pieces themselves, though, are simply stunning. Some of the more memorable ones include a gas attack and the Easter rebellion of 1916. Barry is a master of story telling. He seamlessly blends point of view and controls the release of information to create tight insights that grip the reader.Having finished the lot now, I think I can safely say that this is one of the best books I have read in a long time, probably a lifetime. The final chapters are hugely moving and tie up earlier events very well. Lots of originality, insight and powerful storytelling here.

  • Ruzena
    2019-03-17 16:09

    This is one of the best books I've ever read. Sebastian Barry's novels are worth reading for his use of language alone – his vivid descriptions and use of metaphor are beautiful. At the same time, when needed his writing can be quite stark – most of the book takes place in the trenches and battlefields of WWI, and the horrors of war and death are described in almost matter-of-fact terms that feel very real.The storyline also drew me in in its own right. The protagonist joins the British army just the before the Easter Rising – when 1,800 Irish proclaimed Ireland an independent republic and fought in the streets of Dublin – and is caught between the war in Belgium and the conflict at home. Fascinating story, to the extent that I'm now looking for a non-fiction book to read on the subject.

  • Kiwi Begs2Differ✎
    2019-03-04 16:14

    The story of Willy Dunne, a young Irish WWI volunteer deployed in Belgium, in the hell of Flanders. In addition to the danger and carnage of war, he finds himself in a most unenviable position. In Ireland, where his people are rising for independence and fighting for Home Rule, he is despised by his countrymen as a traitor (as he is fighting for the British) while in the King’s army he is viewed with suspicion by his fellow soldiers (as unreliable). A tough and emotionally draining read. 3.5 starsWhen they came into their trench he felt small enough. 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. He was shivering like a Wicklow sheepdog in a snowy yard, though the weather was officially ‘clement’. The first layer of clothing was his jacket, the second his shirt, the third his long-johns, the fourth his share of lice, the fifth his share of fear.How could a fella go out and fight for his country when his country would dissolve behind him like sugar in the rain? How could a fella love his uniform when that same uniform killed the new heroes, as Jesse Kirwan said? How could a fella like Willie hold England and Ireland equally in his heart, like his father before him, like his father’s father, and his father’s father’s father, when both now would call him a traitor, though his heart was clear and pure, as pure as a heart can be after three years of slaughter?

  • Margaret Madden
    2019-02-27 16:12

    From BleachHouseLibrary.Blogspot.ieThis novel tells the tale of young volunteer Private Willie Dunne, of The Royal Dublin Fusiliers in World War I. Like most young Irishmen of the time, Willie joins the British Army after hearing James Connolly recommend that to do so could only benefit Ireland's cause. Young, naive and impressionable, he sees this as a way of impressing his widowed father, himself a high ranking member of the Dublin Metropolitan Police. Willie was a slight boy and never reached the minimum height of 6 Foot required to join the Police Force and saw his recruitment into His Majesty's Army as a very close second. A teenager, he had a rose-tinted idea of what army life would be like, off fighting The German's abroad and it is with great excitement he, and other Irish volunteers, board the boat to fight for Britain.1st Battalion of Dublin Royal Fusiliers 1915He leaves behind his father, three sisters and his sweetheart, Gretta. The pride he feels as he sets off is juxtaposed by the knowledge that he won't see his loved ones for a long time. The new recruits are waved off from the monuments of Sackville Street and they march with pride. It is 1915 and while there are ripples of Nationalism throughout the streets of Dublin, most of these young soldiers genuinely believe they are off to do a great deed for Ireland and its future. Recruitment poster from WW1, used in IrelandThe novel introduces the reader to the life of a new recruit, thrown in the deep end of a bitter, dirty and atrocious war. A war that we are all aware of, but not from the perspective of a young Irish man, barely old enough to be considered an adult, yet fighting for a country other than his own. The horror he witnesses from his very first day in the trenches, is not sugar coated and is realistic, graphic and intense. His thoughts wander from shock, to terror, to a childlike longing for his family and lover. GPO, Dublin 1916Willie is granted leave and docks in Dublin full of hope and eagerness. It is now 1916, and unbeknownst to Willie, things have changed in Ireland. As he heads back to re-join his brigade, he notices something amiss. There is tension in the air and before long, the company are ordered to disembark, back onto the streets of Dublin. They hear gunshots and believe they are being attacked by Germans. When they are told of of a Republican rising, they are genuinely shocked and cannot understand how Irishmen could be fighting fellow Irishmen. Willie witnesses the shooting of a young IRA man and watches the man die. This is a confusing time, as these rebels seem no different to Willie. When he returns to billet, later that day, he is still covered in the mans blood and none the wiser as to what is really happening at home. " he noticed that his uniform was badly stained with blood. It was the blood of that young man dying. Willie scrubbed his face at the basin provided and he tried a few scrubs at the cloth. There were instructions in his soldier's small-book for the cleaning of khaki. Yellow soap and a little ammonia in a solution of water was advised. But he had no yellow soap and he had no ammonia. He tried again in the morning but in the main he carried the young man's blood to Belgium on his uniform."Flanders, Belgium 1916The novel continues with the protagonists view of life at war. There are no glamorous scenes of beautiful scenery, red sunsets or love stories. Just a glimpse at the realism of war, death, fear and loyalty. These young men are loyal to their fellow soldiers, not caring whether they are being loyal to Ireland or the Britain. They were volunteers, but did they understand what they were volunteering for? One young recruit tells Willie that he joined up after a young lady gave him a white feather and suggested he should join the great fight, rather than being a coward. He was so moved by this girl's beauty, that he agreed, and would not go back on his word. Others joined so they could provide an income for their families at home. It is unclear how many of these young men realised what they were getting themselves into, and it this novel also looks at how they were once seen as heroes by their fellow Irishmen, but this opinion changed rapidly after the Easter Rising in 1916. The next time Willie returned on leave, he was not seen as a gallant young Irish man, but as a traitor to his country.All throughout the novel, the reader becomes a firsthand witness to Willie's battles. His battles on the Fields of Belgium, his battles of his conscience and his battles to survive as an Irishman in a British war. I cannot recommend this novel enough. My respect for Sebastian Barry's talents and skills as a writer was already immense, but I think this novel may stay with me forever. The prose is hypnotic, the characters ( loosely based on real characters - see links below for details ) perfectly constructed and the narrative strong and true. There is a raw elegance in this book. It is emotional, regardless of the readers nationality, showing the protagonist as a genuine, innocent young man who just wanted to be part of the bigger picture. Simply stunning.

  • Kate Aaron
    2019-02-27 16:56

    This is the worst piece of self-indulgent slurry I have ever had the misfortune to read. Seriously. I get what the author was trying to achieve - indeed, if any book has ever been written with the specific design of being "literary" then this is it. The rambling, repetitive narrative, the token Oirish colloquialisms, the death-by-a-thousand-similes... It all adds up to a clumsy, ham-fisted attempt to recreate traditional Irish folk narratives, to draw some correlation between the old oral stories and this new narrative of war. I could wax lyrical on style and form where this novel is concerned but sadly, to me at least, the author failed in his first mandate - to be entertaining. Worse, the narcissistic, masturbatory air of self-congratulation permeating the text (honestly, in places I expected the author to pop up and proudly screech, "Did you see what I did there???") makes a mockery of the simple eloquence of the real records that this conflict left behind.We must never forget, when writing about war, that these events really happened; these men really died. I'm not against historical war fiction per se - indeed, done well I truly love it. What I AM against is the appropriation and butchery of the memories of those men who were caught up in it for real. Your first duty should be to them, not to your own ambition. If you're going to write about war, make the damn book mean something. Show us some truth through art, show some bloody respect. Or invent a fictional war if all you want is to be maudlin and wallow a little in your own sense of greatness.Sadly, all I'm taking from the close of this novel is a sense of great disappointment and annoyance with the author. I failed to engage on any level with any of the characters because, quite frankly, they were so cardboard, so shallow, and so incidental to the plot that I really didn't care less which of them lived or died. Indeed, I barely remembered who each character was when something did befall them. The research was sketchy at best, with glaring errors (tip: if you're narrating a gas attack, make sure you describe the right type of gas!) and the entire plot stumbled from microscene to microscene with zero metanarrative to link them together (and no, in this instance, the war was NOT the metanarrative). I could have been good. Perhaps that's the most galling thing of all - it could have been really good. Instead, it has a whiff of Emperor's clothing about it. The critics may line up to laud this novel as eloquent and lyrical and moving but honestly Mr Barry, you've been walking around starkers and I, for one, shall call you on it. There is more poetry to be found in three scrawled lines from the front that somehow escaped the heavy hand of the censor than in the entirety of this travesty of a novel. It is self-indulgent, self-aggrandising claptrap of the first order and it makes a mockery of the memory of the real men who fought in this terrible war. And that is the most unforgivable thing of all.

  • Ubik 2.0
    2019-03-11 19:04

    Sinfonia per un massacroIn genere, quando si parla di Guerra Mondiale, siamo soliti pensare alla seconda guerra, sia perché molto più vicina a noi e fortemente “coperta” dai mass media (documentari e fiction), sia soprattutto perché caratterizzata da alcuni spaventosi eventi in cui la ferocia umana si è espressa ai massimi livelli (L’olocausto, Hiroshima e Nagasaki, il bombardamento a tappeto di inermi città, popolate solo da vecchi, donne e bambini). Questo romanzo invece ci ricorda come la Prima Guerra Mondiale, se forse meno distruttiva per la popolazione civile, ha visto l’assurdo massacro di centinaia di migliaia di giovani soldati (rimpiazzati ogni volta da reclute sempre più giovani e meno addestrate) che sono stati immolati sul fronte belga e franco-tedesco per contendersi inutilmente poche decine di chilometri durante 4 terribili anni. In nessun teatro di guerra, che io ricordi, si è assistito ad uno scempio così immane, crudele, immotivato e prolungato, tanto da assurgere spesso a simbolo dell’insensata follia di tutte le guerre. E’ lo scenario in cui (salvo brevi parentesi: la licenza, l’ospedale dove si rattoppano i corpi recuperabili per rigettarli appena possibile nel tritacarne) si svolge la vicenda di A Long Long Way vissuta attraverso lo sguardo del soldato Dunne, partito dalla natìa Irlanda, volontario e adolescente, e divenuto maggiorenne nelle trincee della valle della Marna. Ammetto che Il romanzo meriterebbe un giudizio più alto per la sua capacità descrittiva (l’autore è davvero ben documentato) ed evocativa ma francamente, almeno per un convinto pacifista come me, la lettura è risultata sofferta e a tratti insostenibile, per cui sono giunto al termine con un magone crescente mentre pressochè tutti i personaggi del romanzo venivano falciati in un orrendo impasto di fango e sangue.

  • Cateline
    2019-03-11 21:14

    A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry When War came and Belgium was invaded by the Germans in 1914, the call came to defend and protect Home. The young men, cream of the crop, came by the thousands to populate the trenches.p.14 "Willie Dunne was not the only one. Why, he read in the newspaper that men who spoke only Gallic came down to the lowlands of Scotland to enlist, men of the Aran Islands that spoke only their native Irish rowed over to Galway. Public schoolboys from Winchester and Marlborough, boys of the Catholic University School and Belvedere and Blackrock College in Dublin. High-toned critics of Home Rule from the rainy Ulster counties, and Catholic men of the South alarmed for Belgian nun and child."A Long Long Way tells the story of these men through the life of Willie Dunne, a lovely Irish lad with high hopes. Sebastian Barry's steady, lyrical prose explicitly tells the horrifying story of trench warfare, the mud, blood and excrement. But with moments of such love and caring and unconscious heroism that the reader is compelled to continue, even though difficult. This book should be required reading for any person that thinks war is the answer to anything. The technology doesn't matter, it's all the same death to the grunt in the field.

  • Dave Roffe
    2019-03-06 19:53

    At the heart of this remarkable novel is the dilemma which increasingly faced many Irishmen during the latter stages of World War 1 – divided loyalties. Willie Dunne is a Catholic Ulsterman whose father, as a policeman, is a conservative loyalist. As war with Germany begins, Willie, being too short to follow his father’s footsteps into the police force, enlists with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers to fight for the allied cause. Initially Willie sees the absolute moral correctness of the path he has chosen to take and identifies war-mongering Germany a sinister, clearly defined enemy. Gradually, however, Willie and his comrades learn of fomenting insurrection in his native Ireland. The rebels, whose aim is home rule, are accused of exploiting the uncertain and parlous state of a nation at war: “England’s difficulty was Ireland’s opportunity.” The advocates for Home Rule flex their muscles, only to have the loyalist forces crush this rebellion brutally. Rather quell the growing unrest by reacting with a reasonable and measured response, the authorities instead clumsily fan the flames by over-reacting with blundering brutality and witness the conflagration of civil disobedience that ensues as a result. From the trenches in Belgium Willie learns that several of his countrymen had been executed for their part in the uprising. By this time many of those who had volunteered to enlist with Willie regard their allegiances misplaced, with confusion and in some cases hostility towards the Allied conflict being voiced more openly. Moreover, several of the English commanding Officers expressed their contempt and animosity toward all Irish soldiers, referring to them in disparaging terms as feckless and cowardly, and as such far more expendable than their English counterparts.Willie is as innocent abroad as he is naïve at home, and not blessed with great powers of self-expression. His initial moral certainty and simplistic, unfocused idealism is replaced with ambivalence about the rights and wrongs of the war he is directly involved in and the corresponding developments in Ireland. The reader here is subtly led to question just how nebulous the concept of enemy is. Are Willie’s enemies The German Army; the haughty and sneering English; or his own countrymen, be they Nationalists or Republicans?This inherent inconsistency is personified by Jesse Kirwan, who though a peripheral character, articulates the dilemma facing the Irish soldiers. Jesse takes a principled stand against the executions at home. As an intelligent young man he is able to express with eloquence the moral conundrum facing his fellow Irishmen. Do they continue to risk their lives for a cause and values which many of them do not share or reflect their political aspirations, while those who do share those aims are being executed by at home as traitors? This turmoil also reaches Willie’s own family. If Jesse represents rebellion, and Willie represents ambivalence, then Willie’s father is an embodiment of intransigent conservative values. The previously loving and reciprocal relationship between becomes fractious as the elder Mr Dunne accuses his son of treachery for expressing sympathy for the freedom fighters shot by their own countryman. Later, of course, the reconciliation between father becomes as impossible to grasp and hold on to as the mustard gas that had tormented his comrades.The irony is, of course, that Willie is essentially apolitical. Having led an insular life Willie had never, prior to the war, left Ireland. At the onset of war he had accepted the crude propaganda fed him of the Germans as demonic inhuman brutes. Crucially, Willie is by nature compassionate and feels empathy for individuals rather than the causes they espouse. Moreover, Willie does not always fully understand the complexities of events unfolding before his eyes. Battle lines become drawn and firmly entrenched between the Nationalists and the Loyalists, but not particularly for Willie. A conceit that runs through the novel is the humanising and unifying effect music has on the emotionally vulnerable and battle weary soldiers. Against the backdrop of filth, exploding bombs, waist deep ubiquitous mud and the threat of foul, choking mustard gas, Willie and his comrades experience a minor euphoria as a makeshift band strike up an Irish jig. The unrelenting mentally destabilising horrors the soldiers face each day prove as difficult to shake off as the lice that feed off them. However, on several instances throughout the novel music does provide relief and escape of a sort.Willie, whilst home on sick leave, finds his beloved Dublin fractured and divisive. Greta’s rejection of him had achieved what the horrors of war could not: broken his spirit, albeit temporarily. But once again his decency reasserts itself: he no longer feels enmity towards the comrade who had betrayed him. Against the literal and metaphorical carnage surrounding him, Willie finds peace within himself. Ultimately, and despite the tear-inducing conclusion, the novel ends as a triumph of the human spirit. Willie’s legacy is not his bravery or contribution to the war effort. His decency is.A Long Long Way is a remarkable achievement.

  • Rick
    2019-02-16 21:13

    Willie Dunne is barely 18 when he enlists in the king’s army to drive the Huns from Belgium. A Dubliner and son of a policeman, Willie is too small ever to serve with his father on the force, which he longs to do. The fact that he is only five-feet six inches in height, however, doesn’t eliminate him from the service and therefore seems all the more reason to join up. His friend Jesse joins up because a moderate nationalist has told his followers that Irish service on behalf of king and country in the Great War will speed Home Rule. His friend Joey joins up because a pretty girl teases him with a white feather. In short order the war’s wanton brutality overawes anything, however flimsy or noble, however casual or committed, that might pass as a reason for its prolonged horror. There is no other cause but Death served in the trenches. Yet Dunne persists out of loyalty to his mates and his word and the example of his father, though his altered views (Dunne, home on leave, stumbles on the Easter Rebellion and a mortally wounded rebel) unintentionally alienate his father. Barry is a lyrical writer with a great ear for dialogue and even the grimmest of scenes are graced with poetry and humor. In the end the novel is about the waste of war and the fragile but resilient humanity that forges friendships, family, love, duty, and compassion, no matter the surrounding hell. There are great characters drawn on a human scale of ordinariness: Father Buckley, Captain Pasley, Jessie Kirwin, Pete O’Hara, Major Stokes, Christy Moran. Soldiers piss and shit themselves before battle. They entertain each other with songs and stories or distract each other with nonsense. They surprise with the mixed bags of virtues and flaws. There are nightmarish accounts of battle and life in the trenches. And wonderful set pieces too: Father Buckley talking to Willie to get him to visit Private Kirwin in the brig; the letter exchange between Willie and his father, the farewell between Willie and Pete, and several more too boot. It’s a sadly beautiful novel. “At any rate, great armies were massing everywhere, great divisions, so that a simple man was only one flickering light in a wide sky of millions.” The wide sky of millions is well-represented here in the flickering lights of Willie and his mates. Barry’s novel deserves a place with Crane, Remarque, and Hemingway.