Book 859 Pat Barker – Regeneration

I read Regeneration back in 2002, At the time I was going through a Wilfred Owen phase and I wanted to find some literature which focused on the first World War.  This was the first one that cropped up in my search.

Regeneration is mainly based on the more famous people who took part in WWI , such as Siegfried Sassoon , Dr. William Rivers ( who was to have a bigger role in the third book of this trilogy, called The Ghost Road) Robert Graves and Wilfred Owen. In fact the book opens up with Rivers reading a letter from Sassoon, who is denouncing the war. This is basically the theme which runs throughout the novel. We get Wilfred Owen composing Anthem for Doomed Youth  (this is the best bit of the novel) Dr. Rivers examining war-torn patients  and so on.

Earlier this year I read The Ghost Road and did not like it too much. Regeneration is the strongest book out of the two but so far the best book I have read about the subject still is Sebastian Faulk’s Birdsong.

Book 920 Pat Barker – The Ghost Road

The first Pat Barker book I read was Regeneration and although, I didn’t mind it, I wasn’t to keen on reading the other books of the trilogy. The Ghost Road forms the third part (the second volume is called The Eye in the Door) of these chronicles dealing with the first World War and the famous people who fought in it.

This time round the main focus is on the fictional soldier Billy Prior and real life psychoanalyst W.H.R.  Rivers. Here Billy is recovering from his nervous breakdowns caused by the war and wants to return to the front, he also is gay and is forced into a relationship he doesn’t really want to commit to. Meanwhile Rivers is dedicating a lot of time to his patients (Billy is one of them) and occasionally drifts back to his expedition to the Torres Straits where he encountered a life changing adventure which influenced his medical career ( this is where the ghost of the title crops up. It is also 1918 and there is a sense of unease amongst both soldiers and Rivers.

Barker does not focus on battles but touches amongst other topics such as madness and sexuality, however I felt that the most interesting parts of the book dealt with Rivers experience with shell-shocked soldiers or the rituals of the tribe he meets in the Torres Straits. Whenever we approached Billy and his sexual dilemmas I admit that I did feel restless at points.

The Ghost in the Road does focus on complex issues and does avoid the typical trappings of war literature ( bar the last part) but I could not engage myself fully. Could it be because the topic itself does not interest me too much? or was it the wrong time?  I don’t know but I am curious to see if the other two books are included in this list as I feel that a re reading of Regeneration and The Eye in the Door could help me appreciate the trilogy a bit more.