Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Ghost Road

After a hectic week of writing student reports and finally completing the school magazine for the year, I made it to the end of Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy. I finished just in time for the end of November and Kailana's November Reading Challenge.

Overall, I really enjoyed the trilogy. However I think the first novel, Regeneration, is by far the strongest. The Eye in the Door was slightly weaker but still a powerful novel. That brings me to The Ghost Road, the last novel in the trilogy.

The Ghost Road follows the two main characters from The Eye in the Door: Rivers, a psychiatrist, and Prior, a soldier who has suffered both mental and physical breakdown. In the first two novels most of the action takes place in England, away from the war front. I had found that setting very interesting. Concentrating on the home front gives the reader a chance to experience the war through the eyes of not only soldiers but also the women, conscientious objectors, essential workers and older men who were back in England during WWI. However in The Ghost Road, Prior manages to get back to the front despite his chronic asthma and we enter more traditional war novel territory. The battle scenes are tragic and emotional, but there is a sense that we've read about this before. At the battle front, Barker switches to first person diary entries from Prior. This device is slightly awkward, particularly when she has to keep switching back to third person when it becomes obvious that Prior wouldn't write a diary entry just before or after combat.

Another awkward feature of The Ghost Road is the extended flashbacks to Rivers' time spent studying a tribe in the Pacific. I found these long diversions distracting, although I could see that Barker was using the flashbacks to illuminate some of the themes of the novel such as attitudes to death and the role of the warrior in society.

Maybe, I've been a bit harsh on The Ghost Road. It is an interesting and well written novel. My slight sense of disappointment is probably more because the first two novels were so good. I have another Pat Barker novel on my shelves, Border Crossing, and I'm going to read it as soon as I can. The Regeneration trilogy has convinced me that Barker is a writer with the ability to develop psychologically complex and believable characters and one who writes with subtlety and grace.

1 comment:

Kailana said...

Congrats on completing the challenge!