I picked up this book after listening to an interview with its author, Sebastian Barry, on Radio 4’s Front Row. The interviewer, Samira Ahmed, had clearly been enchanted by it. I took that as a recommendation1.

On the surface, this is a story about war. The protagonist, Thomas McNulty, along with his friend and companion, John Cole, sign up to fight for the US army in the Indian Wars. Following that conflict, it’s not long before they enlist again to fight for the Union in the Civil War. The description of the battles is vivid and gory. Barry captures in great detail both the physical and mental tolls men suffer as a result of encountering such brutality.

Interspersed with the fighting is a love story, but not like any other you’ve read before. It’s quiet, understated, yet brimming with emotion. This element of the story unfolds gently like a flower opening in the sunlight. The simplicity and beauty of the relationships are intensified as a result of the harsh environment that surrounds them.

It’s really a remarkable novel. And I’m happy to pass on the recommendation.


1. It’s my aim this year only to read books that have been recommended to me. A recommendation can come in the form of a positive review, an award, or directly from a friend, bookseller or librarian.