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A Long Long Way Paperback – September 8, 2005

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War Brides by Helen Bryan
War Brides by Helen Bryan
When four women reunite in an English village to commemorate the end of a war they lived through together, television cameras miss the more newsworthy angle: The women's mission is not only to commemorate—they've also returned to settle a score and avenge one of their own. Learn more | See related books
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (September 8, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143035096
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143035091
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (81 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #80,691 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori--that's the line from Horace (later famously quoted by war poet Wilfred Owen) that Irish poet, playwright and novelist Barry seeks to debunk in this grimly lyrical WWI novel. After four years of brutal trench fighting, Willie Dunne, once an eager soldier in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, is still a "long long way" from home. Irish Home Rule seems a distant fantasy after the miserable Easter 1916 uprising in Dublin, which Willie, back in Ireland on his first furlough, was forced to help quell, firing on his own people; relations with his pro-British father, who abhors Willie's equivocal stance on Irish nationalism, have soured; his beloved Gretta has married another man; and most of his original Irish band of brothers have been slaughtered. The novel's dauntless realism and acute figurative language recall the finest chroniclers of war (Willie supposes that dead French soldiers "lay all about their afflicted homeland like beetroots rotting in the fields"). Still, Barry lingers too long on the particulars of the battlefield--the lice, the putrid muck--while failing to adequately develop the disasters Willie must face back in Ireland. As such, this somber novel--unlike Barry's moving previous book, Annie Dunne, whose eponymous narrator is Willie's younger sister--often lacks the nonsoldier human faces necessary to fully counterpoint the coarseness of military conflict, though its inevitably bleak conclusion is heartrending.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Willie Dunne is born in a storm during the "dying days" of Ireland. It is not an auspicious beginning. This novel of Ireland and World War I wears a cloak of gloom and doom as thick as the opening storm. Willie's mother dies young. Willie enlists in the army and fights on the Western Front. Willie's sweetheart marries another, and so on. The wartime scenes are brutally realistic. Throughout this dark novel, though, are glimpses of sweetness and light, such as a scene where Willie's father bathes the returning soldier in an attempt to rid him of lice. Those not familiar with British-Irish history may find some of the personal conflicts and politics in the novel confusing, but nevertheless a compellingly sad, if difficult, read. Marta Segal
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

This is a book that will keep you awake at night.
There is a lyricism and rhythm to Sebastian Barry's writing that is so beautiful, it takes your breath away.
This is a beautiful and harrowing story of war, love, loss and allegiance.
Suzanne Dobbins

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

50 of 52 people found the following review helpful By H. F. Corbin TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 18, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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.
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33 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Dolan Buckley on June 19, 2005
Format: Hardcover
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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32 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Julian Faigan on November 6, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Roger Brunyate TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 26, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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.
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More About the Author

Sebastian Barry was born in Dublin in 1955. His play, The Steward of Christendom, first produced in 1995, won many awards and has been seen around the world. His novel, The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty, appeared in 1998. He lives in Wicklow with his wife and three children.

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