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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 16 September 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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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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on 18 April 2000
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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on 7 May 2016
I hate books, they only teach you to follow and not lead. We need leaders not followers. I'll make sure my children never reads these stupid things called books. Proud single mom.

P.S I know Joshua (my ex) can read this. F*u you will never get to see your children, I know I cheated but these are my children. Where were you when I was in the hospital with Tyler? Working two jobs, F*u! That was your excuse. Ignoring my snaps while working, I need a man that can make time for Bae.
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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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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 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 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 18 August 2014
The whole trilogy is a 5

Particularly poignant reading it on the anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War. The books are a brilliant mixing of facts, genuine people and events, with Pat Barker' s imagined characters. The story is shocking, insightful and above all true.
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