KIN 2016 AWARDS: Best Fiction

Days without end

By Ralph McAllister

sebastian-barry-1Now that this ghastly year is almost over, time to look back at what stood out in what has been a less than distinguished literary year.

Two books you might enjoy as much as I have, one non-fiction and one fiction.

(See December 29 for Ralph’s non-fiction choice.)

Best fiction of the year would have to be Days Without End by Sebastian Barry.

Friendship, entertainment and war

indian-warsTwo young men McNulty and Cole meet and forge a friendship in 19th century America which lasts through the Indian Wars, the Civil War and after.

McNulty is from Ireland, Cole from eastern America, their first job is cross dressing and entertaining miners in a bar, by dancing with them.

Nothing more than dancing, says their benign employer, which they manage to achieve.

When the first bloom of youth fades they join the army and fight and contribute to the massacre of native Indians.

They meet and link up with a Sioux girl Winona and this unlikely trio remains together and apart for well nigh 40 years.

A triumph on many levels

sebastian-barryThe Civil War is depicted in all its gore and futility in brilliantly written scenes, which may put off some readers, but the violence is never gratuitous, always ringing with truth and accuracy.

Essentially though, this is a love story between Thomas and John, a kind of Brokebank Mountain on a vaster scale.

It is also an examination of individual desires, of national identities, of what we want from today’s world as we read about yesterday’s .

Shimmering in its landscapes, deeply poignant in its tragedies, Barry has used all his skills as a dramatist, to create a novel which will have you in tears of joy and despair.

A triumph.