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on 1 February 2014
Although this is a fictional book several real people do feature. It really brings home the true nature of the 1st World War and shows the courage these men had. It illustrates that people who suffer mental health problems due to traumatic experiences are not weak, and that sometimes it is the only way to cope.
It shows us how different cultures view death. Is it always terrible or sometimes are there worse things that can happen. Are all who die peaceful?
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on 25 April 2017
The last book in an amazing trilogy.
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on 9 March 2017
Not as good as the first of the trilogy but still a great read
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 16 July 2012
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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on 17 May 2016
I was disappointed with this book because I normally like tales of the Great War. I did not like the style of writing which included a lot of swear words and "dirty" writing.
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VINE VOICEon 5 February 2011
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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on 30 September 2012
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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on 27 February 2010
This is a wonderful conclusion to a wide-ranging and thought-provoking trilogy, exploring not just the now-familiar horrors of the Great War, but psychological trauma, death, sex, morality and - in the Melanesian scenes in this book - truisms across cultures.
The Ghost Road is in many ways the best of the three, focussing primarally on the psychologist Rivers and the anti-hero of the trilogy, Billy Prior, who, in his return to France, is given a much more meaningful and emotional role than was apparent in the fairly middling second book 'The Eye In The Door'.
One of the obvious criticisms is that these characters - even though many are based on real, historical people - are defiantly NOT people of the 1910s, but - in morals, outlook, and mainly a pervasive sense of modern liberalism - people of our own time. Rivers the psychologist heals the 'shell-shocked' not by the crude electric-shock treatment of his peers, but by empathy, understanding and psychological techniques that would not be out of place in today's healthcare system. The fighting men and patients have attitudes to homosexuality and trauma, and a level of worldly cynicism, that are not apparent in contemporary accounts, but which make them seem much more creatures of our own time.
I do not see this as a bad thing, however; by giving her protagonists modern values, Barker allows her modern readers to empathise with, and understand, her characters better, increasing the emotional impact of their various ups and downs.
This is a wonderful book, haunting and thought-provoking, and deserves its place as one of the best books written about World War One, or even of the last 20 years.
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on 1 September 2010
"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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on 7 January 2009
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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