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A Thousand Moons by Sebastian Barry. Book Review

Book cover of A Thousand Moons

A Thousand Moons is the sequel to Days Without End, which really should be read first, not just for completeness but to revel in its fierce, breathtaking prose.

A Thousand Moons follows the fortunes of Winona, the Lakota girl orphaned as a result of Thomas McNulty and John Cole’s actions while soldiers. The narrative of the book is related by her. All of them are leading a settled life on a farm the men are working on, with Winona now well educated and beginning to make her way in the world. Until a traumatic event threatens to destabilise Winona’s life once again.

Sebastian Barry uses a no frills, matter of fact approach to his storytelling, creating a very intimate experience for the reader. There is always a danger of a writer poorly appropriating a culture they are not a part of, particularly when it is set in a historical context and related in a way the writer assumes the story would have been told. However, Winona’s tone and plain language completely captures her essence, drawing the reader right into her very soul, which is troubled but pure.

Most telling is the trauma Winona undergoes in this relation of her life. Rather than drag this out through a detailed and harrowing account, Barry chooses a much more effective way of bringing home the horror of her experience and the devastating effect to her psyche. He does this through her reactions and actions, as well as exploring the love and acts of compassion exuded by those around Winona, who nurture and care for her.

This method of allowing the reader to fill in the gaps and concentrate on what is there in its place, provides the narrative with a lightness of touch and delicately balanced storytelling. Along with and incredible lyrical style, Barry’s stories make for an immersive and affective type of reading experience and is why the reader will not worry one bit if the plot on occasions might appear a little contrived, because this is a vast emotional canvas told on an intimate scale.

I have the audiobook of Days Without End, just to be able to sit back with another way of experiencing Barry’s gorgeous prose and relish the words swirling around me. There is no doubt I will do the same with A Thousand Moons when it becomes available. They are two books of which I will never tire, finding that each reading brings something new to the feast of words.

A Thousand Moons was courtesy of Faber and Faber Limited, via NetGalley.