Literature and War Readalong February 27 2012: A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry

In last year’s readalong we also read a WWI novel from the Irish perspective. It was one of my favourites and since I’m fond of Irish literature, I thought it would be great to add another one this year. I wanted to read Sebastian Barry’s novel A Long Long Way since Danielle (A Work in Progress) first mentioned it. WWI has a special meaning for the Irish. They were neutral during WWII, so, clearly, WWI has another importance. There were reasons why they remained neutral during the second World war which are tied to their own history. While some men, like the character Willie Dunne in this novel, fought for the Allies, other forces in the home country were about to erupt and would lead to the Easter Rising. WWI, the Irish War of Independence, followed by the Irish Civil War, cost the Irish too many lives for them to risk being dragged into WWII as well. I’m certainly simplifying but in a nutshell this was one of the reasons.

Some of what I just mentioned is the topic of Barry’s novel.

Here are the first sentences

He was born in the dying days.

It was the withering end of 1896. He was called William after the long-dead Orange King, because his father took an interest in such distant matters. On top of that, an old great-uncle, William Cullen, was yet living in Wicklow, across the mountains as they used to say, where his father himself had been reared.

I have read Sebastian Barry’s award-winning The Secret Scripture three years ago and I was one of a very few who didn’t like it. It had nothing to do with the writing as such which is great and one of the reasons why A Long Long Way was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2005. The reasons why I didn’t like it were timing and implausibility. I had just read The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox before and the theme is the same, only I liked O’Farrell’s novel much better as it didn’t rely on implausible coincidences. Despite this unfortunate encounter I’m really looking forward to A Long Long Way and hope that some of you will join me.

Have you read Sebastian Barry?


The discussion starts on Monday, 27 February 2012.

Further information on the Literature and War Readalong 2012, including all the book blurbs, can be found here.

29 thoughts on “Literature and War Readalong February 27 2012: A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry

  1. This sounds great! Too bad my library doesn’t have a copy. I can’t understand why they don’t, but it is a tiny library. I’m looking forward to your review!

  2. I really want to read this, I have searched it in book stores but couldn’t find it 😦 I have tried searching it in torrent too but no luck. Buying from amazon is a bit impossible right now.

    why do things related to Ireland are so hard to find 😦

  3. I’m going to be booked up with Mexican literature and War and Peace this month, Caroline, so I’ll have to watch this one from the sidelines. Hope it turns out to be a good read and a good discussion book for the group, though. Cheers!

    • Thanks, Richard, I hope so. Is that a personal project, Mexican literature, I vaguely remember. I have ordered a short story collection with stories by Fuentes (Las dos Elenas), Pitol (El oscuro hermano gemelo) and Rossi (Sedosa, la niña). Maybe you know them.
      War and Peace… I would so love to read it and in a moment of total disregard for my aversion to long novels I ordered it last year. I think that’s the longest book I own.
      Another chunkester I would love to read is Albert Cohen’s Belle du Seigneur.

  4. Sebastian Barry’s book looks quite interesting, Caroline! Happy Reading! Looking forward to reading your thoughts on it and the thoughts of other readalong participants.

  5. I’m still trying to finish Strangers On A Train, The Pendragon Legend while reading Le Blé en herbe on time for my book club meeting: I’ll have to stay away from this but I’ll read your review.

  6. You always introduce me to new authors, Caroline. I’ve not read any Sebastian Barry books, but this one sounds so interesting. I, too, enjoy Irish literature. Luckily my library has this on ebook format, so I’m going to check it out.

    • I hope you will like it. I just read a review of someone who read The Secret Scripture and this book and wrote that he didn’t like the Secret Scripture but thought this one was outstanding. I’m looking forward to reading it. I hope you can join the discussion.

  7. I’m really looking forward to this one–I really like the fact that is is written from an Irish perspective (and loved last year’s How Many MIles to Babylon). I’ve never read any of his work, though I have the other two books you mention. Sounds like this is a good place to start. I may have to start it this week as I feel like Feb is going to fly by!

    • I’m really looking forward as well and have seen quite a few people mentionng that this was his best book so far. But there are people who loved The Secret Scripture. It’s not a bad book but The Vanishing act of Esme Lennox was so much better. I think it will be very different from How Many Miles to babaylon and it will be interesting to compare. It’s not a long novel, I hope you will make it.

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