Sebastian Barry @ EIBF 2017
The three-time Booker nominee covers a wealth of topics – from life in wartime to RuPaul's Drag Race – at Edinburgh International Book Festival
Sebastian Barry is a literary triple threat. The Irish author has penned three Man Booker-nominated novels, is an enchanting public speaker, and has some lungs on him. Taking the stage on a wet Monday morning, Barry treated his audience to a rendition of one of the folk songs from his latest offering – Costa Book of the Year winner Days Without End – before plunging into an exhilarating reading from one of the novel’s battle scenes.
On stage, Barry covers a range of topics: the carnage of wartime violence, the discrepancy between history books and reality, and love, particularly love between men. Like Days Without End, Barry is sensitive but unflinching as he compares the extravagance of war with the bloody carnage that occured when his dog wrecked havoc in sheep country. The primal necessity of violence versus its destructive effects concerns Barry as he contemplates the inherent relationship between aggression and survival.
Readers of Days Without End will hardly be surprised at how tenderly Barry speaks about love and friendship, particularly gay love. Barry describes how he finds a kind of majestic love in gay relationships because they operate outside the conventional gender codes of heteronormative society. He speaks about how he first saw this love through his son’s eyes, and a delightful surprise was hearing about how perhaps Ireland’s greatest living author watched RuPaul’s Drag Race with his son, and the importance of that shared experience.
Barry closes by answering a question about the necessary role art plays in society. He compares his writing to the work of a scientist: attempting to examine something that seems impossibly far away from our everyday experiences in order to bring it a little closer for us all to understand a little better.