An Evening with Sebastian Barry

Meeting your literary hero rarely goes according to plan…

It’s often said never meet your heroes because they cannot live up to the high standards you’ve built them to. In my case the exact opposite of this is true: I don’t live up to them. That is to say I do the horrific awed silence into which pours discomfort for all people.

Last week, I had the great fortune to attend a Faber Members event in the beautiful St. George’s Church, to hear Sebastian Barry read from his Cost Book of the Year winning Days Without End. I must say, should you ever get the chance to see Barry read, jump on the bandwagon. It’s not an experience to be missed. Not only does his prose alone pack a punch, but so too does his delivery. Clearly his days as a playwright have not left him. As the soldiers slashed through the bodies and the trees shrouded in the smoke of a burning lodge, we, the audience were bathed in the gore and soot by Barry’s voice. Shivers rose on more arms than my own.

cem2458811_134307747912
Image by Diane Elsasser Snider via findagrave.com
Sitting in a church pew, listening to Sebastian Barry read one of the most harrowing passages of any of his novels I’ve read was one of the best ways I’ve spent a Wednesday night in a long time. Not least because after the reading, the author was good enough to take some questions about the novel and then sign copies of his books for the massing fans. It’s no wonder that Matt Haig named him the number one author to see read from his work, a fact that a fellow Guardian Books Desk journalist Sian Cain pointed out when introducing the author.

Sadly, my nerve failed me when it came time to asking questions and I missed out sorely as I spent the whole week building up to asking Sebastian Barry a question. Then I was failed again when all I managed to get out when he signed my copy was “It was a truly beautiful book”. “Thank you very much, was there anything else?” he responded with a glint in his eye, my tongue glued to the roof of my mouth resulted in a brief nod from me.

51rimwr5pulBut it truly was a beautiful piece of work. Part war story, part western, all stunning. I can really appreciate why it’s been so well received and gained so much praise since its release. I must admit this one, like so many others moved me with almost every chapter. You would think that I’d get tired of snivelling every time I open a book. Alas, it’s not so. Sebastian Barry has yet again filled my eyes and heart to brimming with the stunning Days Without End. 

Finally, should Mr. Barry happen to ever read hack bloggers’ opinions, I would like to post my question here and live in hope: As your novels deal with the various places Irish people turn up, and you often claim them as your family, have you set out to write the Irish identity in its entirety from the laudable to the detestable, or is this just the disposition that comes from being an Irish author writing Irish stories?

Costa Book of the Year: A Magnificent Lineup

Last night saw the announcement of the Costa Book of the Year award, chosen from the five winners of the individual book prizes Costa sponsor under novel, first novel, children’s book, poetry and biography. The nominees were as varied as the categories themselves:

  • Novel: Days Without End by Sebastian Barry (Winner)
  • First novel: Golden Hill by Francis Spufford
  • Children’s book: The Bombs that Brought Us Together by Brian Conaghan
  • Poetry: Falling Awake by Alice Oswald
  • Biography: Dadland: A Journey into Uncharted Territory by Keggie Carew.

I’m not sure I can really comment on how deserving Barry is this year as I’ve still not read 515djoalbxl-_sy344_bo1204203200_his offering (or any of the others for that matter). However, I will say that last night as I watched the awards I was intrigued by all of the books on the shortlist. Most of all Dadland: A Journey into Uncharted Territory by Keggie Carew.
A biography of her father as he develops dementia, which as it descends past the surface details of the man himself, becomes a chase down the rabbit hole to find out a convoluted personal history. As a terminally nosey person, the idea of digging into the enigma of Carew’s father just captured my imagination. I have added this book to both my Amazon wishlist, Goodreads to-be-read, and the booklist of a reading group that’s formed in my university class (mostly because speech therapy trainees tend to be interested in dementia).

img_0547As for the winner, Days Without End by Sebastian Barry, it’s no secret I’m a great lover of the man’s work and have raved about it to all and sundry. I’ve been excited to read this one since I saw it in the Faber and Faber catalogue last year and FINALLY purchased it just today from a lovely clerk in Waterstones Gower Street. I’m really looking forward to getting into it!

On the rest of the books, I can only paraphrase others whom I’ve seen on the Beeb during the awards show but must admit I am also intrigued by them. In particular, the poetry entry Falling Awake which was described as a book of nature poetry that isn’t quite the pastoral comments one might expect. Also going with another fellow countryman, Graham Norton (one of this year’s judges), Golden Hill is firmly next in line on my to be read pile… after everything else.

So, if you’re at a loss for what to read check out the shortlist, maybe you’ll find your next favourite book!

-Moz