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A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry



Book Reviews (Adult)

A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry
Published by Faber and Faber, 2005

Shortlisted for the Man booker prize in 2005, a powerful novel, which depicts a young man struggling between the first world war and the battle for Irish independence. The author raises the issue of Ireland’s involvement in the British army during the world war, while others are fighting for home rule in Ireland.

Barry’s novel tells the life story of Willie Dunne, the son of a Dublin policeman, who volunteers to join the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. Willie Dunne joins the English army because he does not have the height requirement of six feet to become a policeman, an issue which makes him a disappointment to his father. In 1914, Willie Dunne, barely 18 years old, leaves behind Dublin, his family and the girl he plans to marry to enlist in the allied force in the Great War, partly to prove himself a man and please his father.

While his father is clearly a devoted loyalist, Willie begins to question many familiar assumptions as he develops his own opinions about the war and the Irish struggle. The novel depicts the squalor of life in warfare and the sensibilities of the men caught up in it. Willie sustains his spirit with letters from home and the camaraderie of the Irish who both fight and die by his side. While the Royal Dublin Fusiliers suffer abroad, their native city, Dublin, is in turmoil during the Easter rising in 1916. They find themselves fighting in an army often guilty of racism against their own Irish servicemen, while back in Ireland they are regarded as traitors.

This is a powerful novel about divided loyalties and the harsh realities of war. Barry writes with a lyrical prose that brings to life his characters and their circumstances. This is a very enjoyable and memorable, though profoundly sad novel, which was loved by everyone in the book club.

Reviewed by Newmarket-on-Fergus Library bookclub.

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