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Book Note: Pat Barker, Regeneration Trilogy

I read this book about 4-Mar-2006. This is the first time I've read this book. The book is copyright 1991. This note was last modified Wednesday, 29-Aug-2007 23:43:33 PDT.

This note contains spoilers for the book.


Consisting of Regeneration, The Eye in the Door, and The Ghost Road. Since the edition I have is all three novels, and I've finished reading them, it's easier to write one entry. But I started with an entry on just the first book, and I may have left some confusion behind in editing.

A recent WWI story, and the third volume is a Booker prize winner. It starts with a psychiatrist and a number of patients at a mental hospital in Scotland during WWI. Most of the time seems to be spent on Rivers' relationship with Sassoon—a lieutenant who has published a declaration against the war. The psychiatrist is not stupid, and is not unthinkingly in favor of the war, though he does feel a certain amount of duty to carry through his duty (to get people back to active service). The other volumes follow some of these characters later, in London and in France.

The first piece of this trilogy left me with a problem: do I keep on? Nothing in this piece really grabs me; Rivers being the closest. I can't tell if the parts are really as disconnected and unrelated as they look, or if it's just the slow start to a long work. I don't know what kind of trilogy I'm dealing with here. (I decided to read on, obviously.)

There's also a small amount of poking at homosexuality; all the characters take it rather more lightly than I would have expected for the period, but behave as if others will not treat it lightly.

The second volume is mostly about peace activists and labor activists, some in prison and some working for the authorities, and a few still free. It's pretty interesting, and the class and personal strains are fascinating.

The third volume goes back into combat in France, with Sassoon and Owens particularly. It also jumps into bits of letters and extracts from journals and things.

Overall I found it interesting, but by no means compelling. And it seemed structurally haphazard, and rather short on that most-key story element: plot.

It doesn't really feel like the WWI that Tolkien experienced, or that Paul Mitchell studied, either.

An afterword makes clear that it's far more historical than I would have suspected—Rivers, Sassoon, and Owens, at least, are real, and Sassoon's declaration is real, and his advice to Owens on poems is real (from handwriting on the manuscript).

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