That’s the title of the novel I finished yesterday. A Long Long Way, by Irish writer Sebastian Barry, was shortlisted for the 2005 Man Booker Prize for Fiction, which went to John Banville for The Sea. Banville’s novel is on my to-read list, but it will have to be a masterpiece to top Barry’s novel.
A Long Long Way is the story of William (Willie) Dunne, an Southern Irish Catholic who volunteers for the British Army soon after the outbreak of the Great War. Willie, who is not yet 18 years old when he enlists, is motivated by the belief that a good showing by Southern Irish troops will be rewarded by Home Rule when the war is done.
The action follows wee Willie (who is just 5’6″ tall and naïve, if not simple-minded) through the mud, blood, and abject terror of trench warfare. If Barry meant to write an anti-war novel it doesn’t show. The gory fighting, rendered in a wholly believable way, is only a backdrop for Willie’s thoughts, loves, comradeships, and (most of all) his relationship with his towering figure of a father. All of that holds center stage.
What happens to Willie? Read A Long Long Way and find out.