The first in a stunning trilogy about the First World War, the novel takes a real life encounter between a doctor running a hospital for the wounded, and Siegfried Sassoon.
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Craiglockhart, a hospital for officers ravaged by their experiences in trench warfare, is the setting for Pat Barker's 'Regeneration'. Here the poet Siegfried Sassoon, author of an article condemning the war, came under the care of psychiatrist W.H.R Rivers whose duty, as he saw it, was to return Sassoon to all the horrors of the Front, because Sassoon was sane, was healthy – and he had made a commitment. But while the encounter of Sassoon and Rivers is central to 'Regeneration', it is the exploration of the character of Rivers himself, the agony of the other patients and the insights into their minds, that makes this a tour-de-force. A superb novel related with chilling clarity and vivid compassion.
As a psychiatrist at Craiglockhart Hospital, psychiatrist W.H. Rivers, a historically authentic character and a kind-hearted, get-at-able, even noble person, faces up to the impossible task to try and free his inmates-patients from the war demons that do not cease to haunt their minds.
In this process he gets involved in their regeneration process at a personal level as they grow able to express the horrors that have incapacitated them psychologically.
Barker follows the treatment undergone by war poet Siegfried Sassoon (aka Mad Jack) upon his arrival at Craiglockhart after throwing his brave conduct medal into the river Mersey and publishing his notorious anti-war statement in the Times.
Another riveting feature of the book is when Sassoon meets young Wilfred Owen and encourages the young poet in his writing aspirations.
In Regeneration, admittedly, the war merely serves as an undercurrent; but Barker succeeds admirably in turning it into a dramatic device to explore the complex issues she sets forth to clarify.
Being a doctor, Rivers' job is to preserve life. However, in just doing this, he ends up getting the men back on their feet again so they are ready to go back to the front (to get killed there just the same).
I learnt more from this book than I did from many set texts. A truly rivetting read from cover to cover. As are the further two novels which make up the trilogy.