Regeneration by Pat Barker
I confess that I would not have been drawn to this book of my own accord. I generally steer clear of writing about the effects of any war. This is rather bizarre since WW1 poetry is in fact some of the poetry I find most absorbing. At any rate, the main reason I have Regeneration in my possession is that I had to read it as one of my students was covering it for her A’Level.
I love the concept for this book and was blown away by how effortlessly Barker interspersed Sassoon’s poetry into the core events in the plot. It puts a human face on a poet I’ve long admired for his ability to put ideas across in such a concise and effective manner. This comes across in the way Barker has dealt with descriptions of his character and his dialogues with Rivers and Graves.
It was however a difficult book to read because I was constantly aware of how harrowing the soldiers’ experiences had been. In some ways the physical injuries were easier to accept than the emotional and psychological ones. Despite this, it was also a compelling read. I was enthralled by the development of the relationship between Owen and Sassoon and very interested in Dr Rivers and his back story.
Although the sections of interaction between Owen and Sassoon were brief, I was drawn into the imagined discussion around the editing of ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’. Sometimes I was confused during dialogues between characters as Barker rarely states who is speaking. I was often forced to reread sections to be sure I had the order of conversation right.
I found the most shocking part of the book to be the description of the treatment used on a mute soldier. For me it highlighted the fact that we still dismiss and reject mental illness with similar degrees of crudity and brutality today.
As this book is part of a trilogy I will be reading the other two at some point. I do however suspect that I will need several much lighter books before I embark on the next round of the harrowing effects wrought by WWI on several nations.