Costa Book Of the Year – Days Without End by Sebastian Barry

Irish playwright and author Sebastian Barry is celebrating this week, having been presented with the Costa Book of the Year award for his latest novel Days Without End. Since being established in 1971, the Costa Awards have been one of the country’s most well-respected and prestigious literary prizes. Barry is the first person to be given the award twice, having previously won it in 2008 for his novel The Secret Scripture. Barry says that his son coming out as gay was a crucial factor in him writing the story, which is set in the 1850s and has a gay love story at its centre. In their citation, the judges called it “A miracle of a book – both epic and intimate – that manages to create spaces for safety in the noise and the chaos of history.” Days Without End – along with many of Barry’s other works – can be found on our extensive catalogue.

days-without-endThomas McNulty, aged barely seventeen and having fled the Great Famine in Ireland, signs up for the U.S. Army in the 1850s. With his brother in arms, John Cole, Thomas goes on to fight in the Indian Wars–against the Sioux and the Yurok–and, ultimately, the Civil War. Orphans of terrible hardships themselves, the men find these days to be vivid and alive, despite the horrors they see and are complicit in.
Moving from the plains of Wyoming to Tennessee, Sebastian Barry’s latest work is a masterpiece of atmosphere and language. An intensely poignant story of two men and the makeshift family they create with a young Sioux girl, Winona, Days Without End is a fresh and haunting portrait of the most fateful years in American history and is a novel never to be forgotten.

seb-barry-a-long-long-waySet at the onset of World War One, ‘A Long Long Way’ evokes the camaraderie and humour of Willie Dunne and his regiment, the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, but also the divided loyalties that many Irish soldiers felt. It also explores and dramatizes the events of the Easter Rising within Ireland.

seb-temporary-gentlemanJack McNulty is a temporary gentleman, an Irishman whose commission in the British army in the Second World War was never permanent. In 1957, sitting in his lodgings in Accra, he urgently sets out to write his story. He feels he cannot take one step further, or even hardly a breath, without looking back at all that has befallen him. He is an ordinary man, both petty and heroic, but he has seen extraordinary things. He has worked and wandered around the world – as a soldier, an engineer, a UN observer – trying to follow his childhood ambition to better himself.

The other shortlisted books – This Must Be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell, The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry and The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain are also available to borrow from Leeds Libraries.

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H is for Hawk wins the Costa book of the year

H is for hawkHelen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk has won the Costa book of the year award worth  £30,000. The biography had already won the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction in November.

‘In real life, goshawks resemble sparrowhawks the way leopards resemble housecats. Bigger, yes, and also bulkier, bloodier, deadlier, scarier, and much, much harder to see. Birds of deep woodland, not gardens, they’re the birdwatchers’ dark grail.’

As a child Helen Macdonald was determined to become a falconer. She learned the arcane terminology and read all the classic books, including T.H. White’s tortured masterpiece, ‘The Goshawk’, which describes White’s struggle to train a hawk as a spiritual contest. When her father dies and she is knocked sideways by grief, she becomes obsessed with the idea of training her own goshawk. She buys Mabel on a Scottish quayside and takes her home to Cambridge. This book is a record of a spiritual journey – an unflinchingly honest account of Macdonald’s struggle with grief during the difficult process of the hawk’s taming and her own untaming.

Novelist Robert Harris, chair of the judging panel, said: “It was brilliantly written, muscular prose and staring at grief with the unblinking eye of a hawk. It was a very clever, accomplished bit of writing that wove everything together. H is for Hawk has already had great success and has been acknowledged as a modern classic,” Mr Harris said. Several of the judges “felt very passionately it was a book that haunted them and they would never forget it”.