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on 8 February 2005
Though often mentioned alongside the likes of Faulks's Birdsong and Susan Hill's Strange Meeting, Regeneration does not exactly come up to the 'regular' qualification of a war novel. Instead, what novelist Pat Barker sets out to attain is to trace the mental paralysis the war leaves in man's mind as well as exploring the courageous, though mostly inept, ways for all those involved, to cope.
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).
For Sassoon, Owen and the other soldier-patients, an important crux is the guilt complex which, given the emotional closeness between the fellow-soldiers in the trenches, almost forces the chaps to return to the front; to them it is the only way by which to avert the threat of mental destruction by guilt.
This dilemma is just what makes novels like these so worth one's while: even while physically on the safe side, the soldiers remain damned and doomed. What, indeed, are their chances of survival if and when they go back to the trenches?
A worthy testimony and a valuable read.
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on 16 November 2008
An interesting,introverted book,based on Dr Rivers study of some of his more famous clients.It's wonderfully written,and Barkers characters ooze,a moody,intellectual,introverted mind set.The tone of the book has a nice sepia,style to it,and the sadness of war and pointless death is always there.This is a book for people who like the physchological side of WW1 and all of it's dilemmas,rather than the actual gun fight in the trenches.Barker concentrates on understatement and introspection to bring the book,and it's characters to life.This will become a "classic" of it's genre in the fullness of time
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on 27 June 2007
This is my first dip into Pat Barker's novel. I have the trilogy but I'm reading them a book at a time so I don't overload myself with the topic matter.

Fantastically written, each character comes to life throughout the novel. I found it interesting from a teacher's perspective as I have taught Sassoon, Owen and Graves so it was good to see their relationships. The characters are vivid, she has written them with such clarity and imagination. The binding character is Dr Rivers and the bok is about his interaction with the patients that are sent to him.

The book is a mix of facts and fiction and it's difficult to tell where one ends and the other starts to be honest. Her source material is wide-ranging and I'm sure the bits I thought were fact were. It discussed parts of the First Wolrd War that were different to my previous reading - such as centering around Craiglockhart. It gives the readers a chance to get to know the mental health issues surrounding the soldiers and is a book that will stay in my mind for a while.
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on 18 November 1998
One of the most impressive books I have read in ages. A worthy Booker Prize winner. What impressed me the most was the subject matter and how it was handled. On the surface the "shrink" sessions of a First World War poet does not seem to be a far reaching let alone interesting subject for a novel. However, I was utterly engrossed by the story of the rehabilitation of not just Sassoon but all the other "inmates" of Craiglockhart as well. The anti war message is very clear and well argued from the author's point of view and in retrospect Sassoon was quite right. The sadness of the stories from the Front, the breakdowns and the attitude of the government and military are impressively recreated, as unfortunately are the methods of some other military hospitals. The appearance of Wilfred Owen should inspire readers to try his poetry, it is wonderful, honest and heartbreaking. All the waste of war, yards of mud for thousands of lives are here. Lest we forget, this is indeed an important work.
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on 2 July 2007
I disagree with the last reviewer and find it fascinating that many of the reviews focus on WWI. This book is set against the background of WWI and its portrayals of various horiffic incidents is insightful- but these incidents serve to show us the why and the how of each of the individuals in this book. It focusses on each one, each man as a person ravaged by horror seeking a hiding place from it, but unable to leave behind the stinking, dying flesh of war. Take each man out of the machine of war, and he is no longer a hero among 20 million heroes, but a man. Attitudes towards mental health and duty form the true core of this novel (as subsequent novels in the trilogy focus on sex and then, finally on the mundanity of 'action'). No character is entirely sympathetic, even Rivers, the 'father' at the heart of the novel.

Human flaws are saddening, but also maddening, and the arrogance of breeding (versus the unthinking sacrifice of the working classes) leaves you with some distaste at the actions of Sassoon and others (a man who had not done a day's work in his life until the war came along). Men in Sassoon's position were coddled back to service, while men of lesser breeding were simply shot before they could spread discontent in the ranks.

Barker does not seek to justify anything- you are left to form your own opinions, and slowly cotton on to the fact that neither Sassoon nor Rivers are the heart of this novel, but that Billy Prior, whose life we will follow in the later novels, is the everyman- not a hero, not a coward, not lovable nor particularly handsome, but nevertheless selected by Barker as our guide through the inexplicable horrors of 1914-1919.

I read this recently as part of the '1001 books to read before you die' series, and was deeply impressed by it- having read some of Barker's earlier work I had though that I would hate it. Glad to be proved very wrong!
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In July 1917 Siegfried Sassoon issued a declaration denouncing the Great War. Sassoon should have been court-martialled but thanks to the intervention of his friend, Robert Graves, he was instead referred to Craiglockhart War Hospital for psychological evaluation by the psychiatrist, William Rivers. Rivers’s job is to heal his patients enough to send them back to fight but as he begins his assessment of Sassoon, he finds himself questioning his own role in the war …

Pat Barker’s historical novel looks at the psychological trauma wrecked by World War I on a generation of young men and the development of techniques to try and treat it. The book does a great job of showing the schisms created by the war in terms of attitudes towards psychological disorders, the class system, the treatment of women and, ultimately, attitudes towards the war itself. There are some horrifying scenes in the book – most notably the scenes where Yealland demonstrates his own, more brutal approach to treatment but there are also moments of tenderness, particularly in a scene where Billy Prior is forced to confront what happened to him on the Front. It’s not a perfect book – at times the male patients do merge into one another, there’s a sameness to all of the point of view characters and there’s (understandably) not much in the way of female characters (with the exception of a love interest for Prior). However, I did find it an immensely moving book that utterly held my attention from beginning to end and I can well see why it is held in such high regard.

The book shifts between a number of characters, the main ones being Sassoon, Rivers, Billy Prior (who arrives at Craiglockhart mute and with amnesia) and Sarah (a woman who works in a munitions factory and who forms a relationship with Prior). Each offers a different perspective on the War and the effect that it’s having on people and the country. Although the book hinges on the relationship between Sassoon and Rivers, for me the more interesting sections are those involving Prior and Rivers because Prior’s working class background and clear intelligence makes him more antagonistic in his sessions with Rivers. Barker’s clearly done a lot of research and her detailed author’s note shows where she’s deviated from the fact.

Ultimately, I found this utterly compelling and have no hesitation in recommending it.
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When the First World War broke out, most people assumed it would be over in a few months as their nation (whichever one that was) sent the others packing. In fact, many raced to enlist fearing that "the fun" might be over before they got there.

Instead, what they discovered in Western Europe was a stalemate with trenches dug from the North Sea to the Atlantic Coast across which English, French, and German soldiers faced each other for years from cold, wet, corpse-filled, and disease-ridden trenches.

No one knew how to break the stalemate. Millions died as shelling continued against these fixed positions.

Every so often some general would convince himself that a massive charge would break the other line. Each time this was tried, the slaughter accelerated as men ran into point-blank machine gun fire and artillery barrages.

Regeneration looks at the disillusionment that led one decorated English officer and poet, Siegfried Sassoon, to remonstrate against the military leadership in public. Rather than court-marital Sassoon, the military chose to send him to a psychiatrist, Dr. William Rivers. Regeneration creates a fictional account of their relationship at Craiglockhart War Hospital. The book also looks at how Rivers treated other "mental" cases sent his way.

The most interesting parts of the story come in looking at the ethical dilemma of being asked to help those who cannot mentally deal with the war any more . . . when that "help" may lead to them going back to France where their life expectancy is measured in weeks. I was reminded of stories I've read about patching up people who tried to kill themselves so they could be legally executed.

There's a revolting section on how less sensitive physicians dealt with these "mental" problems . . . basically torturing soldiers until they wouldn't resist going back to fight.

The book has two weaknesses that mar its obvious strengths in recapturing that difficult moment in English history.

1. Ms. Barker assumes that her readers already know about Siegfried Sassoon (or at least that they don't mind her holding back details about what he did for some time). I had never heard of him so it was annoying to try to figure out what all the fuss was about in the early pages. The book could use an extensive historical footnote as a prologue for those who don't know about the incident.

2. The book often skates around the edges of how Sassoon and Rivers related to one another. Much is tacit, and I found it hard to understand in all scenes what Ms. Barker was trying to suggest each one was thinking.

I commend Ms. Barker for picking real characters and bringing them to life in a way that's very poignant (even for those who aren't English) 90 years after the events have taken place.
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on 25 June 2004
This book is not only easy to read and refreshing from many works covering WW1, it challenges our perception of the horrors of war. On the surface it is a story about the soldier poets, namely Sassoon and Owen, but it is also about so much more - relationships, class divisions and the process of regeneration.
Superbly written, this book will blow you away. A great and accessible read... highly recommended!
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on 3 February 2010
"Regeneration" has a solid concept at its heart: using real people and real events to fictionalise a slice of WW1 history. But does Pat Barker really pull it off?

Rivers, the eminent psychiatrist, was clinically dull as a leading man. I found it hard to believe in him or to accept that his moral outlook had changed much by the end of the story. The stars that should have shone brightly in this narrative - Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen and Robert Graves - faded into blandness. These mild, melancholy officers were virtually interchangeable and had little character to set them apart. Meanwhile, too much focus was given to peripheral characters like Prior and Burns. Prior's wooing of a local girl was largely irrelevant and upset the book's pacing (I'm sure those local Scots were talking with a strange Yorkshire lilt, as well). Burns' discharge and subsequent depression in Suffolk led to nothing. It just reaffirmed that the war had warped his mind and we knew that from the start.

In particular, though, it was the meeting of Sassoon and Owen that disappointed me the most. Their friendship at Craiglockhart Hospital felt fake, a kind of paint-by-numbers re-enactment based on Sassoon's real-life annotations of Owen's poetry. Neither of these men seemed shaken to the very core by war, as their famous poems convey so well. Indeed, in this novel, the war barely feels real at all. Sassoon comes home from it, writes his withering "Soldier's Declaration" - and spends the rest of his time playing golf, visiting artists and dining at member's clubs. I can't help but think this complex man really hasn't been done justice.

Pat Barker seems to be more of a historian than a novelist and perhaps it shows. She's got her facts straight but scrimped on the humanity. Am I tempted by the next two books in the trilogy? Not really!
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Absolutely superb novel that brings the utter horrors of the First World War to life without going near a battleground.

Set in a Scottish hospital, and based on the true life character of psychiatrist William Rivers who sees the terrible mental trauma inflicted by the war on men who are terrified to return yet conditioned to feel it their duty to get back to their comrades... And the doctors whose role - undertaken by some more enthusiastically than others - is to 'fit young men back into the role of warrior, a role they had - however unconsciously - rejected.'

As he treats various patients, including poet Siegfried Sassoon, who is vehemently opposed to the continuance of the War, Rivers is only too aware that 'normally a cure implies that the patient will no longer engage in behaviour that is clearly self-destructive. But in present circumstances, recovery meant the resumption of activities that were not merely self-destructive but positively suicidal.'
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