"war! what is it good for?"
Pat Barker's Regeneration Trilogy has been haunting me for a long time, which, as it turns out is pretty apropos, since it's all about men living their own personal nightmares during the First World War.
i've sold a lot of this trilogy, especially when they first were coming out. the second book in the series The Eye in the Door won the 1993 Guardian Fiction Prize. and the third book The Ghost Road won the Booker Prize in 1995.
war is usually not my thing, but after i saw the film based on Regeneration i realized in part what i was missing and finally asked to borrow the books from my brother.
as much as the war and it's horrors are constantly at the forefront of the novel- maybe even the driving plot of the novels thematically- these novels are mostly about men dealing with a changing world, the changing stereotypes of what men are "supposed" to be, and
what is courage?
the first book in the trilogy takes place in a mental hospital called Craiglockhart where we meet most, if not all, the future characters in the trilogy.
this book mainly deals with the relationship between Dr. William Rivers (father-figure, doctor, and friend extraordinaire) and Siegfried Sassoon (homosexual, poet and decorated british officer). when Sassoon refuses to serve onmoral principle. he, of course, is sent to Craiglockhart, because, well they can't court marshall a decorated officer. let's just pretend he's crazy. Rivers, a man of integrity and honour, is to be the man to convince Sassoon to drop his protest. and he does. much of the novel develops the friendship that grows beween Sassoon and Rivers as they debate the larger issues of the war and their own personal bias' toward it.
The Eye in the Door
the title to the second book in the trilogy refers to a waking nightmare that Lieutenant Billy Prior begins to have. Billy has not been well. his blackouts and nightmares are worse and since Rivers discovered billy's asthma, which previously billy had been able to successfully hide or at least mask, River's has made Billy understand how unhealthy it would be for him to go back to the front. and when he doesn't pass his physical Billy is given a home service job as a domestic intelligence agent. a job that doesn't exactly help his state of mind.
in this book, we are shown Billy's psyche, raw and bloody as it is. his obsession with sex, his extremely troubled childhood all come to a head as he is brought back to his past.
The Ghost Road
with a title like that, you'd be not really paying attention if you thought it was going to be all puppy dogs and rainbows. and, boy, is it not.
this third novel of the series centres very closely around Rivers and his past experiences doing research in melanesian village and around Billy back at the front.
demons are confronted, and struggled with, and altho' the dark sides of men don't necessarily win, the outcome of this final novel may make it seems like they have.
n.b. what made these novels even more compelling for me, was that barker uses historical figures and events and when authors do that well, it gives me a thrill.