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43 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A huge, limitless book
The field of First World War novels may be a crowded one, but in 'The Ghost Road', Pat Barker is by no means overshadowed. Her subtle blending of fact and fiction allows her to convey every aspect of the war effectively from two perspectives: the psychological impact of it on those deeply involved, and wider view: how it affected social and mental barriers, inciting...
Published on 16 Sep 2001 by Amazon Customer

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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The weakest part of the Regeneration Trilogy
Pat Barker's Regeneration Trilogy begins with 1991's 'Regeneration', is followed by 1993's 'The Eye in the Door' and ends with 'The Ghost Road' in 1995. I read them back-to-back in 2011 and, even though I expected the trilogy to improve on the phenomenal start it made with 'Regeneration' - considering 'The Eye in the Door' won the Guardian Fiction Prize and 'The Ghost...
Published on 5 Feb 2011 by Ian Shine


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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The weakest part of the Regeneration Trilogy, 5 Feb 2011
By 
Ian Shine (England) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: The Ghost Road (Paperback)
Pat Barker's Regeneration Trilogy begins with 1991's 'Regeneration', is followed by 1993's 'The Eye in the Door' and ends with 'The Ghost Road' in 1995. I read them back-to-back in 2011 and, even though I expected the trilogy to improve on the phenomenal start it made with 'Regeneration' - considering 'The Eye in the Door' won the Guardian Fiction Prize and 'The Ghost Road' won the Booker Prize while `Regeneration didn't win any prizes - I found it actually became less engaging and less focused with each book, particularly with the final book.
All three books are set during World War I. 'Regeneration' focuses on the war poet Siegfried Sassoon as he recovers from shell-shock in a war hospital in Scotland and is treated by Dr Rivers (who is the main character throughout the trilogy); 'The Eye in the Door' is based more on life in the UK during the war, looking at the issues facing homosexual men and those sheltering deserters and/or pacifists; while 'The Ghost Road' sees Billy Prior, a soldier who was in the war hospital in 'Regeneration' and involved heavily in 'The Eye in the Door', return to the war front. This final book is split between Prior's accounts of the war, Dr Rivers's work in a war hospital and Rivers's flashbacks/recollections of his early anthropological studies among a tribal culture.
The main themes binding the books are the sense of futility and hopelessness that drove soldiers to insanity; the emasculating effects of being stuck in a trench (or any place) where you are ordered to do things and have your fate taken out of your own hands. This is contrasted with the paternal relationship that Rivers develops with his patients, the paternal relationships that Sassoon and Prior feel for the soldiers they go to war with, and the often paternally-inflected homosexual relationships that crop up in the final two volumes, but particularly in volume two ('The Eye in the Door').
The concentrated gaze of the first volume, set almost entirely in the war hospital, adds to the intensity of the volume and helps to convey the intensity of the soldiers' experiences, which are described in an often shocking way that pulls no punches (I can't remember ever wincing before while reading a book).
While the second volume switches its gaze, it maintains a similar level of intensity and the grittier dialogue works well in adding to the more 'everyday' narrative. While volume one is set within a very regimented reality, removed somewhat from real life, volume two sits squarely within the domain of everyday life in Britain and Barker proves herself equally adept at capturing both.
Unfortunately the exact thing that gives the first two volumes their intensity - that level of focus - goes in 'The Ghost Road' as the narrative scatters about. I found it hard to really engage with any of the narrative threads, despite having invested in the main characters (Rivers and Prior) in the previous volumes. Rivers's recollections of his anthropological research do tie in very neatly thematically, but they feel too deliberate, too strained, and the natural, genuine feel of the first two books is consequently lost somewhat.
However, overall, this is a very intelligent account of the effects of World War I on everyone involved in it, from the soldiers at the front to the people left at home. I suspect 'The Ghost Road' won the Booker Prize more as a nod towards the quality of the trilogy as a whole than for that book on its own, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't read the trilogy. Anyone interested in psychology, wars, war poetry or modern literature should.
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43 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A huge, limitless book, 16 Sep 2001
The field of First World War novels may be a crowded one, but in 'The Ghost Road', Pat Barker is by no means overshadowed. Her subtle blending of fact and fiction allows her to convey every aspect of the war effectively from two perspectives: the psychological impact of it on those deeply involved, and wider view: how it affected social and mental barriers, inciting probing questions into the value of our own morality.
On the surface, we are presented with a seemingly straightforward negative account of the war, most prolifically in its impact on the two central characters, Prior and Rivers, who serve as the focus for the narrative throughout the book (the latter stages even being told directly from Prior's diary entries). However, upon a deeper reading, endless social judgements emerge, directed against every aspect of our society, along with predictable passes at the class system, which allowed the upper classes, and in particular, aristocratic army generals to distance themseves from the suffering endured by the men. Barker cleverly utilises a complex narrative which in itself would satisfy a reader, and saturates it with ambiguous, apparently descriptive yet deeply symbolic references, to the deepest political and philosophical issues.
Despite these being perhaps cliched themes, especially so considering the context, they are presented in such a way that makes them have a powerful impact on the reader, the sustained flatly harrowing tone, one of almost casual sadism, being as intriguing as it is grotesque. The opening line: 'In deck chairs all along the front the bald pink knees of Bradford businessmen nuzzled the sun' demonstrates this, the symbolism inherent here indicative of the way Barker starts as she means to go on. The close examination by a barbaric tribe of head hunters on a remote island, however, is perhaps the strongest and most overtly cynical judgement of the British system during the war: the way in which, in essence, there is no rational reasoning to explain the concept of rank. War as a setting is the opportunity Barker seizes with both hands to communicate her feelings about such matters, being in many ways the most extreme of human pursuits, and very widely understood as an institution, Barker perhaps manipulating the sensitivity surrounding it to drive her own ideas home. The result is that they are doubly effective.
This is not to suggest that Barker's narrative be devoid of successful characters: Prior and Rivers, the focal points throughout the book, are both richly constructed, with many delving psychological examinations. The development of Prior's character as he comes closer to first-hand conflict, in particular, serves to supply the reader with the personal aspect of the war, as well as being an enlightening and thought-provoking analysis of the human psyche. His release of repressed sexual feeling shortly before an assault on a German position a reflection, perhaps, of human capability and desires which, when faced with the inevitability of death, when life is measured and displayed, find openings in the calamity of mind.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A study of casual violence, 16 July 2012
By 
Stewart M (Victoria, Australia) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Ghost Road (Paperback)
I may have made a mistake by reading this book without first having read the others in what I now I understand to be a trilogy. However, I doubt if I am alone in having done this - so I will continue with the review.

The book is set in the final stages of WW I and follows the lives William Rivers - a psychiatrist - and two of his patients - the poet Wilfred Owen and Billy Prior. Interlaced with these stories are recollections from Rivers of his time as an anthropologist.

The general arc of the story is not unpredictable, with the fate of Owen being too well known to come as a surprise or a shock. What does come through is the fatalism that holds sway over many of the characters within the book - they have seen too much already not to know the truth of the war. In this way many of the things they do feel like the preparations for death - and this seems be the link to the anthropological memories of rivers. What we are witnessing in the war and on the tropical islands are the rituals of death.

The story deals with the casual barbarity of the war on a psychological rather than physical level, and is all the more troubling for that approach. This casual indifference also seems to pervade all the references made to sex within the book, with most being depicted as unequal power relationships about revenge or humiliation. I suppose my surprise at these sections could have been heightened by not reading the other books in the series, but I doubt it.

Overall, this is an interesting investigation of people who have been forced to stare into the abyss of human violence. But in the end I found the inevitability of the plot distracting.

Recommended, but with a few reservations.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Haunting, 1 Sep 2010
By 
Sam Quixote - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
"The Ghost Road" is set in the closing months of WW1 and alternates between a traumatised soldier, Billy Prior, and his physician WHR Rivers. Rivers' treatment of Prior's physical and mental wounds leaves him more or less sane but determined to return to the Front while Rivers continues his work, helping physically and mentally damaged men overcome their problems.

The book's focus on trauma and it's effects has never been done so well as in this book. Barker's presentation of soldiers who have seen hell on earth never once diminishes what they've gone through or who they are afterwards, they each retain honour in their fragile states. One line towards the end sums up the mindset of a traumatised soldier: "Loos, she said. I remember standing by the bar and thinking that words didn't mean anything anymore. Patriotism honour courage vomit vomit vomit. Only the names meant anything. Mons, Loos, the Somme, Arras, Verdun, Ypres." (p.257).

Barker's characterisation of Prior and Rivers is brilliant. Each man is flawed and heroic in their own ways. Prior's bedroom antics, especially the last encounter he has at the end, might make him seem almost sociopathic but this is juxtaposed with the way he looks after the men he's in charge of, as well as his decision to return to the Front despite being given the chance to avoid it. Rivers is the kind and understanding doctor who, through flashbacks to an earlier life in the Solomon Islands, is also shown as flawed in his own ways via the journey he took to become the great man he was.

Lewis Carroll, Wilfred Owen, and Siegfried Sassoon all play minor parts and are brought to life fantastically well. I've studied Carroll's life and felt Barker's depiction of him, while perhaps not as flattering as some fans of his would like, was compelling and showed him as a human being like the rest of us.

This is one of the few Booker Prize winning books I think really deserved it. Pat Barker's written an incredible story of bravery and heroism at home and abroad during WW1 with fascinating and memorable characters. The writing is top notch throughout with so many evocative lines that never becomes cloyingly sentimental. This is one of the most powerful: "Then they were moving forward, hundreds of men eerily quiet, starlit shadows barely darkening the grass. And no dogs barked." (p.261).

A must read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Ghost Road, 7 Jan 2009
By 
J. Ruffell - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Ghost Road (Paperback)
This novel proves to be an illuminating trilogy based on the First World War and on real people and events. Barker succeeds in telling a harrowing and horrifying story through the eyes of Prior, a soldier in the war and through the eyes of Rivers, an army psychiatrist. Prior's story is based equally on his past and the present, where we see him admitted to a psychiatric hospital as a result of his experiences yet ultimately committing himself to lead others much like himself `over the top' to face enemy fire. Additionally, we follow the life of Rivers who devotes his life to treating injured and psychotic soldiers, unveiling their experiences and nightmares in order to restore them back to sanity. Furthermore, a fair majority of Rivers' story is dedicated to his past experiences of staying on an island in Africa where he witnessed `foreign' rituals and procedures and made many strange encounters.

The way in which the events in the story follow on from one another can be confusing as you have to be able to distinguish stories from the past and present and also between the four different stories that are being depicted. If you are familiar with the different characters and the roles in which they play throughout, this novel is a much easier read.

Nevertheless, Barker dares to write about the truth of war, which at times horrifies and shocks. Her novel captures our sympathy by the use of vivid description and she does not hold back on her exploration of the experiences of the men who served in the war. In all, Barkers novel is an excellent, eye-opening addition to that of other war literature and I would recommend the novel to all who wish to read an original and unforgettable outlook on the war.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Still very special on its own - best read, I suspect, as final part of its trilogy, 19 Dec 2008
This review is from: The Ghost Road (Paperback)
Winner of the Booker Prize in 1995 and then shortlisted for the Booker Prize's 40th Anniversary `Best of the Booker' in 2008, Pat Barker's `The Ghost Road' is the third book of her Regeneration trilogy. It was the `Best of the Booker' nomination that finally brought me to read this book and I did so without having read the previous works in the trilogy, `Regeneration' and `The Eye in the Door'. My advice would of course be to read `The Ghost Road' third but this book can stand alone although one misses out on the main characters's histories and therefore some of their depth.

Set in 1918 during the final months of the Great War `The Ghost Road' follows the last journey to France of Lt Billy Prior who previously has returned from France three times, once with shell shock. It is as a result of this condition that he found himself in the care of Army psychiatrist William Rivers. Rivers continues to care for the young men evacuated from the front with devastating mental illness and brain injuries throughout the novel and considers how if at all he has helped those like Prior who have now been declared to fight again. As he works with these patients he remembers his days as a young anthropologist with the tribes of island communities.

Pat Barker is an author in complete control. She shows the devastation of the World War pointedly rather than overwhelm with the reader with loss one cannot comprehend. Her characters are perfectly human and are described starkly, from their sexual encounters through their illnesses to their own deaths or the deaths around them. The juxtaposition of the violence in Europe with the savage simplicity of the tribesmen is superb and allows the author to explore violence, death and faith from two very different stand points.

Barker's ending is as moving as any Act of Remembrance. In the final advance of the 2nd Manchesters is every single tragic death in that war. The family around the hospital bed is every family that mourned. To read this book, and I suspect to read the whole trilogy, is to explore something of the essence of those four terrible years.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good Introduction, 14 May 2008
By 
Aurora (Cheshire, England) - See all my reviews
I came across this book when it was recommended in my book group, noticed it was one of three books and picked up a copy of the trilogy which I read straight through. It is an extremely readable series of books in which the language flows very well and the story is all the more poignant for this.

It's very difficult to form one point of view about the first world war from these books. Initially I experienced sympathy for Sassoon's anti-war protest and shock upon reading about Captain River's other patients. The beauty of Pat Barker's writing is that she expresses very complex issues well - the futility of this war, the hopelessness of those caught up in it, protest, patriotism, heroism and self-discovery.

The Eye in the Door is a little odd in comparisson to the other two books in that Billy Prior's story becomes disconcerting to say the least.

Sassoon's and Prior's ultimate actions in going back to war are understood in the context of their compassion for others. The Ghost Road reaches an emotional and despairing conclusion but gives enrichment and hope from the detailed descriptions of Prior's last journey to the front line.

Captain River's story is also compelling and adds another complex dimension about imperialism.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Forgotten Victims, 25 Mar 2009
By 
Bob Salter "Captain Spindrift" (Wiltshire, England) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Ghost Road (Paperback)
I may be in a minority here when I say that I found this to be the most powerful and profoundly moving book in the trilogy. In this book the sympathetic psychologist Dr W H R Rivers becomes one of the most noble figures of moden literature. Anyone who has undergone counselling or indeed practices counselling will find this book and its predecessors fascinating. It has a resounding ring of truth to it. Billy Prior the shell shocked Officer from a humble background who struggles both with his background and his wounded mind is a fascinating subject for Rivers. But the relationship becomes far deeper than that. It is almost the love between Father and son. River's recollections of his time in the Soloman Islands living with those simple people is a quite brilliant idea. It highlights the ills with society that would cause such injuries to the mind. Amongst the Soloman Islanders such behaviour was beyond their simple understanding of the world. Their happiness contrasting vividly to the woes of post war Britain.

This most moving and eloquent of books is a fitting ending for this monumental trilogy. It is also a humbling elegy for all those forgotten victims of the war and their families, who suffered misery as deadly as any bullet could inflict. Essential reading.
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22 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Should be read in context, 18 April 2000
By A Customer
It is important to read the first two books of the Regeneration trilogy before starting on The Ghost Road. The character of Prior has to be one of the most attractive in modern fiction, whilst at the same time being more anti-hero than hero, but it is his development through the series that is most interesting. If you don't cry buckets at the end, you have no feelings.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not what you might expect, 30 Sep 2012
This review is from: The Ghost Road (Paperback)
I was drawn to this book as I'm interested in WW1 history and repulsed yet fascinated by the appalling waste of life. I was further enticed by the attactive 30's retro cover. However this book was not what I was expecting. Having started a book I stick with it to the end but looking back I wish I hadn't started with this one.

I didn't find any of the characters likeable and for me they were superficially drawn. If I had to describe the book I'd say it was a study of the worst side of human nature - with a fest of sordid sexual encounters and gratutious violence. There is nothing wrong with either of these per se in a book but the way one unattractaive episode followed another became in the end for me laughable "uh oh here we go again ...". Like watching an explicitly violent film the power to shock and move soon wanes.

After reading most books I put them on my bookshelf in case I want to read them again or pass them on a friend. Unusually this one went straight in the recyclng bin. Try listening to 'The Band Played Waltzing Matilda' by June Tabor instead.Anthology
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The Ghost Road
The Ghost Road by Pat Barker (Paperback - 1 May 2008)
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