What I'm Reading
The third book in the Regeneration Trilogy and by far the best as the awarding of the Booker prize indicates. I read this as a stand-alone and the trilogy later without losing anything from the flow of the overall theme of regeneration.
I enjoy any kind of psychological tale and the warfare element added an intense layer with the views and treatment of shell shock. And shocking they were.
The story is set in the First World War with the two central characters (one fictional and one historical) coming to terms with the physical war and the war within themselves. Comparisons are drawn between social class, sexuality and the ancient traditions of the people of the Solomon Islands, which show the levelling and inevitability of death. A particularly absurd fact is that the British banned the act of headhunting in the Solomon Islands while fully engaging in the futile slaughter of the Western Front.
The concept of sanity, which is the focus of shell shock, is a major theme that runs throughout and every theory fails paradoxically alongside what is happening in the war. The main historical character is a psychologist whose aim is to treat the men suffering from shell shock, so that they can go back to the brutality of the trenches and become 'ghosts in the making'. He himself suffers from influenza and has hallucinations, with references to the madness of Alice in Wonderland and there is imagery symbolic of the Cheshire Cat regarding smiles and pulling teeth.
Barker has an original voice. The language and imagery are gritty, earthy and profound and cleverly deal with death, conscience, guilt and resentment in their many forms. This book is unique in every way, which is quite an achievement for Great War literature. One of my favourite books of all time. See the top ten First World War novels.