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Paperback A Long Long Way Book

ISBN: 0571218016

ISBN13: 9780571218011

A Long Long Way

(Part of the Dunne Family Series)

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Format: Paperback

Condition: Very Good


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Book Overview

This description may be from another edition of this product. Praised as a "master storyteller" ( The Wall Street Journal ) and hailed for his "flawless use of language" ( Boston Herald ), Irish author and playwright Sebastian Barry has created a powerful new...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

For King and Country -- but for which?

There have been many novels set in the trenches in World War I; this is one of the best, almost up there with Sebastian Faulks' BIRDSONG, my personal standard for the genre. What makes A LONG LONG WAY stand out is the sheer quality of its writing, and especially its Irish perspective. At the time war broke out in 1914, there was a general understanding that Ireland would be granted home rule within a few years. So young men like Willie Dunne, the son of an officer in the Dublin police, joined up to fight for King and Country with the thought of earning England's gratitude and further advancing the cause of freedom. But others had no such trust, and felt that the only solution was to snatch independence by force; their view ultimately prevailed, but split Irish society in the process. When Willie is home on furlough, he finds himself caught up in the Easter Rising of 1916, forced to fire on his own people. Back in the trenches, he becomes more aware of the anti-Irish prejudice of the English officers and the conflicted attitudes of his countrymen. Trying to explain this in a letter to his father, he only succeeds in alienating him. By the end of the book, such concepts as King and Country have been replaced by simpler realities: comradeship, survival, and mud. For Barry keeps his focus very much at ground level. Willie remains a private throughout, and the author never steps back to take a more exalted view. But the book's realism is offset by a poetry in the writing that befits a countryman of Joyce. He has an extraordinary eye for detail: "Even the leaves of the trees, so fresh the day before, seemed to have gone limp on their natural hinges and twisted about sadly, not making the usual reassuring music of the poplars along the roadside, but a dank, dead, metallic rustling, as if every drop of sap had been replaced with a dreadful poison." The account of the first appearance of the strangely beautiful yellow cloud that precedes this is the first of many magnificent set pieces in the novel. Others include the Easter Rising, a regimental boxing match, several suitably bewildering battles, and the lovely oasis of a visit that Willie pays to the country home of his former captain towards the end of the book. By the time the War ends, very few of Willie's original regiment are left. Sebastian Barry makes no attempt to suggest that death on such a scale is justified by some higher cause; no writer on the First War can do that with much honesty. But even as he questions notions of patriotism, he does succeed in portraying the War as a personal spiritual journey; the book ends with a quality of acceptance that does at least offer some kind of consolation.


An extraordinarily moving account of the fate of a teenage soldier, Willie Dunne, in the trenches of World War 1. Although the theme of the story and the point it drives home are not original, Barry brings to life the lad at its centre with such grace, honesty and empathy that it is impossible not to be moved. Willie's bewildered efforts to understand the malevolent forces of history and his eventual resignation to the hopelesness of his situation are conveyed with words both brutal and beautiful. Barry's ultimate success is to show that the trumpeting of generals and politicans, so free with the blood of a generation, are no match for the simple dignity of the likes of Willie Dunne.

sad and true

Don't even consider reading this novel unless you can handle extremes of cruelty, blood and guts - and, most of all, sadness; for this is one of the saddest tales I have read in a long time. Young Willie is very amiable but a bit simple... but he has gained some wisdom by the book's tragic end. Mr Barry depicts the bottom-of-the-barrel place of young Irish Catholics in the hierarchy of Britain's WWI. When this fundamental problem is accentuated by the rejection of his father and girlfriend, the uncomplicated youth senses that his only community is that of his Flanders comrades. Once you are used to the book's lilting language, it sweeps you up in the mud, guts and body parts that are its sad staffage. This is an extremely fine book, but is not in any sense an easy read.

"In Flanders Fields," A Booker Nominee About War

Willie Dunne, who at seventeen is too short to follow in his father's footsteps and become a Dublin police officer, in 1914 volunteers to fight in the First World War. With beautiful prose that often rises to the level of poetry ("When the snow came it lay over everything in impersonal dislike.") Sebastian Barry weaves Willie's tale. As in every story of war, whether it is the ILIAD or THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE-- the soldiers opine, however, that Dante and Dostoevsky would have written about their plight-- the events are similar: the comraderie of fellow soldiers, the homesickness (much of the fighting takes place in Belgium), the filth, the omnipresent specter of death, the confusion of battle, the desire to live. Even though much of the plot then is predictable, it does not make for a lesser novel. Willie would like to marry and grow old with Gretta. The fighting Irish must believe that God in on their side. They must believe that they will prevail in the end. In addition to the usual concerns of every soldier, Willie also must confront and resolve his differences with his own father over political tensions in his own country as well as his love and betrayal (his soul is "filleted") of the beautiful Gretta. There are many memorable characters (Willie's sister Dolly, Father Buckley, Sergeant-Major Christy Moran) and scenes here: when Willie sees his first death in battle (of Captain Pasley), when he kills his first German, when he returns to Dublin on leave and his father bathes him, when he visits the empty grave back in Ireland of Captain Pasley. The horrors of war of course forever change Willie. He figures out that not King George but Death was the "King of England. . . Emperor of all the empires." His comrades try to define victory. "'You put out a crowd of lads on the field, and the other side put out a crowd of lads, and you had musket shot and calvary. . . And when everyone was dead on the other side, you had a victory. A victory, you know? Well, and that's not the same with us, then is it?' said Willie. . . 'And if more of us is left standing, then they might be calling that a sort of victory. . . Some f-----g victory. . . Some f-----g war.'" Sadly some stories do not change.

Young men, empires, and mustard gas

My first novel by Sebastian Barry and the story had me slowing down to read becuase of the double whammy it packs: a deeply personal look at the young Dubliner Willie Dunne at the time of World War I and the precision of language and imagery. When I have book in my hands that has the double hook of story and language, it means it will be a slow delightful read, even if it leaves my heart in shrapnel-like fragments, as this particular novel does. The protagonist, Willie Dunne, is trapped in colonized Ireland while the world wages its war. Fighting in another land while his own country remains under the thumb of Britain, Willie's questions haunt him as he tries to battle in the trenches. On leave while at home, family and internal political events turn him even more confused and strain his personal relationships. Barry could not have composed a better story than A Long Long Way, to depict the intense human dilemma of a young man like Willie Dunne. Irish and Russian writers seem to be able to best locate where things fall apart and how they affect us all. Barry now writes from within that haunting tradition.
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