The Regeneration Trilogy

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Named one of the 10 best historical novels by The Observer in 2012.

The year is 1917, and as World War I rages on the continent, up in Craiglockhart War Hospital psychiatrist Dr. William Rivers is treating casualties with shell-shock.

He knows his charge: he must patch up these men ready to send them back to the front.

And yet, the closer he gets to his patients, the harder he must fight his conscience.

The Regeneration Trilogy is a deeply powerful and brutal retelling of the war that changed everything.

The novels: Regeneration, The Eye in the Door and The Ghost Road are written by internationally renowned author Pat Barker, CBE and  FRSL.

Barker was born in Thornaby-on-Tees, Yorkshire on 8 May 1943 and studied international history at the London School of Economics.

Whilst she began writing in her mid-20s, she never  published her first three novels – deeming them unworthy.

Barker has currently published 13 books; her first, Union Street, was released in 1982 and her latest novel, Noonday, was released last August (although Penguin has just released their own copy of the novel last month).

The Regeneration Trilogy has received much acclaim, with The Observer naming it one of ‘the 10 best historical novels’ in 2012.

 The Eye in the Door also won the 1993 Guardian Fiction Prize, whilst The Ghost Road won the 1995 Booker Prize.

The books are set over the last year of the war and are based on true historical events and figures.

They follow the story of four main characters: psychiatrist Dr. William Rivers and his three main patients – acclaimed poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen and fictional soldier Billy Prior.

Each of these characters I grew to love in their own way and it was heart wrenching at times to see the trials and tragedy they must face.

I gained a particular soft spot for Billy, who at the beginning of Regeneration is temporarily mute.

Billy is undoubtedly the glue that holds the storyline together and the normality of his character renders him, if though rather flawed, easily lovable.

What I believe Barker does in her story, better than in any other WWI novel I have read, is very plainly and shockingly emphasise the mental scars of a war.

Mental health, even today, is still quite a taboo subject and Barker confronts the subject in a way that is extremely moving and refreshingly unapologetic.

It’s important to point out here that Barker’s style is characteristically direct and blunt. It’s fair to say these novels are not for those with a squeamish disposition.

However, if you can get past that, the story I believe is made all the better for it and is, though if at times unsettling, masterfully crafted and rewarding.

Each of the novels is a great read in its own right, but of the three, I must say that The Ghost Road is certainly my favourite just for the sheer poignancy and tragic beauty of the ending.

In summary, a very powerful set of books written by an extremely gifted author.

Published by Penguin, Regeneration (1991), The Eye in the Door (1993) and The Ghost Road (1995) all retail at £7.99.

 

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