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on 2 May 2008
Double Vision by Pat Barker is a novel that defies description. Within its pages there is war, crime, murder, rape, love, hate, sex, artistry, creativity, duplicity, anger, tenderness, inspiration: a dictionary might have enough words to list its subtleties. What it has aplenty is feeling and emotion, an ability to convey its characters' innermost thoughts in an almost tactile manner, as if sculpting them for a hand to explore their surface. At times, Pat Barker's characters surprise even themselves.

At the heart of the book is a series of relationships between four individuals - Justine, Ben, Kate and Stephen. The two men used to work together as a team. They have covered wars and conflict throughout the world. Stephen was the writer, Ben the photographer, who would always insist on getting that one last shot, the one that the eyeless onlooker would miss, the one whose poetry would convey the true horror, the one whose horror, perhaps, might stir conscience. But one day, an Afghanistan, he pursued his perfectionist brief one shot too far and, over-exposed, another's eagle eye picked him out.

The loss felt by Stephen will never be adequately described, especially by himself. His partner's death puts him in limbo and he retires to write. Ben's sculptor wife, Kate, is left both numb and destroyed by her loss, a loss which becomes everything and nothing. A commission to create a giant Christ for a prime site in a churchyard is both pressing and unexpectedly therapeutic. She wants him naked. He must be clad. But then an accident damages her arms and she must seek help from a gardener, Peter, who is clearly much more than a pruner of roses. Exactly what Peter might be adds a sense of tangible mystery to parts of the book, but these serve only to highlight the fact that he is perhaps the only one of the characters with a recorded and therefore accessible past.

Justine is the vicar's daughter. At nineteen she was ready to go to university, but illness disrupted her plans. Being ditched by a boyfriend did not help. And so academe was deferred by an enforced gap year. She `does' for Stephen's brother and his wife, specialising in caring for a difficult, demanding child. When Stephen lodges with the family, but in a separate dwelling a hundred yards from the house, he and Justine meet. He is old enough to be her father. So what? Their relationship develops through the book, their frequent sexual encounters both rich and surprising. Pat Barker's ability to tease out emotional reaction, to crystallise it but at the same time to keep it fluid makes the story of Stephen and Justine exciting, exhilarating, contradictory, impossible and accepted in one. Whatever people's ages, whatever their motives, whatever the consequences, either real or imagined, people still need love, can sense its promise, can invite it, even when they know it could hurt, humiliate, destroy.

Double Vision is thus a complex story of how a group of friends and acquaintances interact with history, reality, their hopes and fears in a small community in the north-east of England. There is a strong sense of place, a keen eye for detail in a rural landscape that is at least partly hostile. Not that other landscapes are not hostile. Memories of war and its consequences haunt some of the characters. Failed relationships taunt others. Unrealised dreams snag away at the fraying edges of what might have been. Death turns lives upside down, lives that go on to new ecstasies of joy, creativity or even plunder.

At the end of the book you know these people intimately and intuitively. But your knowledge and understanding of people is like a photograph. It is valid only for the instant in which it was taken. As memory, it solidifies an ever changing reality into an illusion of permanence, like a sculpture captures a moment of movement, a moment that never happened. Life goes on. This is a beautiful book.
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on 9 September 2003
Pat Barker is undoubtedly one of our best living novelists. She seems to be able to produce a constant stream of well crafted and engaging books. And so she has again with 'Double Vision'.
Barker returns toward her most succesful theme, war and the ravages of war on the human mind. This is not something new for her (Regeneration Trilogy) but it is something that she does extremely well. All her characters are superb; well drawn and believable. This together with an engaging plot make a for some sound entertainment.
As with all of Barker's novels, there is a dark tone lurking behind all her work. It is no different here and that is something to relish.
This is a quality novel by a quality writer and thouroughly recommended.
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on 16 January 2006
I enjoyed the first three quarters immensely, and then it fell to pieces. Not the standard expected. It then began to read more like a first novel. The credits of her research indicated that she had put alot of academic research into this project. Where was it? Perhaps the computer corrupted and she lost large chunks of worthwhile prose.
We started off with Kate and developed her as a meaningful character, but then she seemed to get lost. Whose book was it? Stephen's, I suppose, but he was very thinly drawn. The character balance was very choppy. Peter and the statue business was never fully explained. I think, reading between the lines, that Pat Barker got fed up with this novel and ditched it, rather than putting in the work she intended. Very poor stuff.
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on 18 December 2006
Although I can see what other reviewers mean, I don't agree with their ratings and comments. One of the many good things of this book is the open ending. There is a threatening atmosphere built up, and things turn out very differently than you might have expected. After the book's ending many things might happen, perhaps even things you feared would happen in the course of the book. Yes, life goes on. People change and will change, and some of those people are in this book, with scars, open wounds, strange ways of looking for healing of those - known or only hinted at - wounds. There is a Stephen, a Peter, a Robert, an Alec in me (being a man), and even a Kate, Justine or Angela. This is the best novel I read for months, as good as other Pat Barker books, and I hope I will be able to find books by Pat Barker I haven't read yet.
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on 26 September 2004
I had high expectations of this novel based on Barker's previous work but found it really quite bland and rambling. The blurb describes it as 'provactive, intense and deeply moving' which is massively overstating the case. It certainly isn't a 'searing' novel more a short episode in the life of a tired reporter lusting after a plump teenager. Apparently Barker did a lot of research before writing the novel including attending the Milosevic trial and reading up on Goya but this is distilled for example, into a bland one-liner on Milosevic. There is a strange, unrelated trip to see a small Goya masterpiece. Yes, of course Goya's relevence is that he painted the horror of war but the meaning of this and other incidents as related to Stephen, are never woven into the narrative; they remain simply as passing references. The characters, including Stephen, are hardly developed and there is poor narrative control, which is most
jarring at the end of the book when Stephen and girlfriend visit an island, get attacked by birds then come home in a dodgy boat -'the end'. All the threads of the narrative should have been pulled together into some coherent shape or form rather than hanging loosely in a broken web. Could do better.
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on 17 October 2016
Pat Barker is again in the realm of war & conflict: This time the violence of Afghanistan & the conflicted mind of a journalist who witnesses the carnage & death of a close friend, a photographer. A master of the intricacies of the mind at war with the Human's senses Barker tells her tale with the assured touch the author is rightly renowned for exhibiting at a level very few novelists have achieved in the modern era. Thoroughly enjoyable read.
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on 20 April 2004
Pat Barker has lost her way of late. After a string of average books comes this latest attempt to recapture the power and resonance of the Regeneration trilogy. The theme is very interesting but nothing is developed and the plot meanders from one random encounter to another. I get the feeling that the author did not know where she was going with this and you're left with a 'so what?' feeling at the end of it all.
I will read her next novel but I'm beginning to wonder if Pat Barker will ever equal that classic trilogy.
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on 23 March 2005
I must agree with the other review on this book. Barker's characters were interesting to begin with, and I read on quickly in hope of finding out how she was going to bring such a disparate group of people together. Sadly, the conclusion was both confusing and disappointing, and when I closed the book I just felt a bit blank and dissatisfied. However, there are certainly moments of good writing in the novel and some interesting observations. Just a shame, as the other reader agrees, that she didn't truly plumb the depths of the small world she created. My impression was that it could have been a big, meaty novel and ended up being something much less than that. Still, it did win the booker prize, and I did read it in 2 days (on the bus and in the evenings) - so there is something to be said for its readability.
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on 30 March 2009
Pat Barker is a fine novelist but this is not one of her best. 'Double Vision' is a curiously unsatisfying read, leaving you rather perplexed at the end almost as if, as other reviewers have suggested, that Barker lost interest or changed her mind even.
The is book is largely told through the eyes of Stephen Sharkey, a war reporter who has semi-retired to live near his brother to write a book about how wars are reported. He uses the photographs of a close friend, Ben, whose widow, Kate, lives near conveniently by.
The countryside around has been ravaged by foot and mouth reminding Stephen of the many horrors he has left behind. There are some thoughtful sections on how photography distorts our view of events, even lies. However, this is a muddle of a book: characters are shallow and inconsistent and too many puzzles are left unresolved particularly with regard to the character of Peter.
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on 30 March 2004
I read a good newspaper review of this book saying that it should have been booker nominated. How wrong were they.
This is a terrible book but as long as you are reading it you don't notice. The prose is fine throughout as event after event is described to you. I read it waited and hoped that it would all make sense come the end. This did not happen. It feels utterly pointless and is too unfocused have any conherent meaning. Too many characters just go in and out of the story and it doesn't have any purpose to it at all.
My advice, get something else. This book will not reward the money you spend or the time you invest.
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