I listened to this in audiobook form to accompany a visit to Dublin last week. Its about two Irish soldiers who fight for the Yankees during the American Civil War, and against native Americans. It is told through the perspective of one of those soldiers, who begins soldiering as a boy, and is then a grown man by the end of the novel. The story tells of his relationship with another soldier, whilst also dealing with the demands and violence of his comrades towards native Americans and from the Confederate Soldiers.
I really enjoyed this book. In the audiobook version it’s a man with a very strong Irish accent who reads the whole story, adding a layer of authenticity to the narrative that I probably wouldn’t have got if I’d just read it myself. The book takes you on quite a long journey, from the two boys in their youth as drag dancers in a bar in a mining town, to their adoption of a daughter and attempts to find happiness.
The book covers a lot of themes that are normally ignored in this genre of novel (western). Apparently Sebastian Barry was inspired by the fact that one of his sons is gay. Interestingly the novel goes beyond typical tropes in queer literature, and it is incredibly well written. The main protagonist that Barry creates is authentic, courageous and very human. It’s one of the best books I’ve come across in a while, and I’m considering rereading it, as a novel not an audiobook, to see if it is just as good in print. I thoroughly recommend this book, whichever version you read.