A Long, Long Way by Sebastian Barry

A Long, Long Way is a novel written by Sebastian Barry that was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2005 and tells an amazing and extremely well written story.  Barry is an Irish novelist, poet and playwright noted for his dense literary writing style.  He is considered to be one of Ireland’s finest writers.  His literary career actually began through poetry.  It was only later he began writing plays and novels.


In recent years his fiction writing has surpassed his work in the theatre in terms of success.  He was originally considered to a playwright who wrote occasional novels, but has since been twice shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize including for this novel A Long, Long Way that was first published in 2005. it was recently book of the month at our local book group.

The story starts in 1914 when Willie Dunne who is barely eighteen years old and  is too short to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a policeman in Dublin.  He wants to prove himself a man.  So he leaves behind Dublin, his family, and  the girl he plans to marry in order to enlist in the Allied forces and face the Germans on the Western Front of the Great War. Once he is there, he encounters a horror of violence and gore he could not have imagined and his spirit keeps up  only with the words on the pages of letters from home and also the camaraderie of the mud-covered Irish boys who fight and die in this terrible war.

Willie is only dimly aware of the political tensions that have grown in Ireland in his absence.   At the time of the first world war there was an understanding among the Irish people that Ireland would gain Home Rule.   So when Willie returns on leave he finds a world split and ravaged in Ireland too. While Willie Dunne and the Dublin Fusiliers suffer abroad, Dublin City is in the midst of the Easter Rising and the men fighting with the allies are thought of as traitors by their fellow countrymen. He finds some comfort with his family but he knows he must rejoin his regiment and continue to fight.  Sebastian Barry vividly describes Willie’s struggle as well as the horrendous consequences of war.


This is a read  not for the faint-hearted.  If you get put off by horrific scenes of war and vulgar and brutal happenings then this is not the novel for you.  However this account of war that takes you right into the trenches with young Willie Dunne and his comrades. You experience their fear and their anguish; the squalor and the camaraderie of the young men who fight and die side by side.

Valerie Penny


1 Comment

  1. A great book – but hard to read in parts.


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