I’m not a “re-reader”. I rarely re-read books mainly because there are so many stories out there just waiting to be read I don’t want to “waste” my time visiting the ones I already know. One story I DO revisit at least once a year is the novel A Long Long Way by Sabastian Barry. I HAVE blogged about this book before. It’s one of my favourites and is one of 5 books I own that I will never lend to anyone for fear of not getting it back. It’s a title you don’t often find in bookstores, and it seems to be always “out of stock” online. The Kindle version is available, however, but this novel is worthy of permanent residency on your bookshelf.
Willie Dunne wants to be a police officer like his father, but he doesn’t meet the height requirement. Hence, he decides that “if he could not be a policeman, he could be a soldier” and at 18 years old enlists in the army to bravely fight on the Western Front. We follow Willie through his training, dispatch to the front, and to the trench itself. The novel is very explicit in its description of trench warfare (trigger warning). Still, I do not believe descriptions of war should be sanitized.
Along with the narrative, Barry inserts letters, letters written between Willie and the woman he loves, his sister, and his father. It is these letters that I re-read. These letters are personal and loving and incredibly heartbreaking. These letters emotionally impact me more than any Remembrance Day service ever has.
“Dear Papa, … I believe in my heart that you are the finest man I know. When I think of you, there is nothing bad that arises at all. You stand before me often in my dreams, and in my dreams, you seem to comfort me. So I’m sending this letter with love and thinking of you” (291).
I am tearing up as I type this.
Besides the letters, I also re-read this small section:
“ Then, when he was all shipshape, his father put his big arms around him, and held him close to him for a few moments. . . like an actor on a stage. It was not a thing you would see in real life anyway, and there was a faraway look on his father’s face like it was all years ago …and he was a little lad. But he was a soldier now of some nineteen years and for all that he was glad of his father’s arms around him, strange as it was, strange and comforting as it was.” (74-75).
Willie comes home from the war for a short visit. He is riddled with lice and ringworm and is exhausted both mentally and physically. What does his father do? He bathes his son, wraps him in a clean towel and holds him tight.
It’s as if his father knows….
So, at least for one day, I will try to transport myself to a time and/or place where true heroes exist and heartbreak is staggering.
I will read
I will remember
And I will weep.
If you find a copy of this novel, be sure to buy it.