I'm really grateful to Mark at Mostly Books who reminded me about a distant and very lonely blog post last October on a now defunct blog in those days of early uncertainty about the whole venture.
It's a review of my Booker-thon last year, an attempt to read the entire longlist and written BEFORE the winner was announced.
It's all coming back to me now.Things were going badly verging on terribly and this with Banville, Mantel, Ishiguro, Aw (saving grace), and the lesser part of Smith in the bag, but I'll let dovegreyreader nouveau bloggeur 2005 take up the story.
My great project was beginning to fall by the wayside until I picked up A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry. “Savage WWI detail” said the blurb, trepidation
crept in, gas, trenches, rats, bodies, this was going to be dreadful,
could I face it? However quite unexpectedly, what followed was one of
the most quietly moving and emotional reading experiences I have had in
a very long time and if you only read one book off the Booker list
please make it this one.
If you are the mother of sons as I am then prepare to shed a lot of furtive, gentle but angry tears. Mine are 22 and 20 and I saw so much of them in the character of 19 year old Willie Dunne. As WWI erupts in Europe, Willie enlists with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and heads off via enforced army action against his own countrymen in the Easter Rising in Dublin, to serve for the King of England in the trenches of
This is a book replete with defining moments in which to compare Willie with your own sons but there is one moment of seemingly mundane simplicity that stopped me in my tracks .Willie’s mother has died in his childhood and he arrives home on leave from France lice-ridden and filthy. His father hauls out the zinc tub and baths him. For me it was one of those scenes in a book of such heart stopping emotion that you come across only once in a while and never ever forget.
At that moment I understood with crystal clarity and in a way that no other novel I’ve read about this era has conveyed to me (no, not even Birdsong) just how much those families loved their sons, of course as much as we love ours, this was no easy sacrifice for duty, king and country, this was agonising pain and as a reader Barry allowed me to feel it to the core.
Everything else that I’ve read off the shortlist has paled into insignificance in comparison to this book.I have no idea about the criteria that the judges may use in arriving at their final decision but for me, if we are talking about choosing a beautifully written, readable book that for once really enters into an emotional collaboration with the reader then it has to be A Long Long Way by a mile.