Genre: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction
Setting: 1917, Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh
My copy came from: I purchased a used copy at a library book sale.
Review: Powerful, haunting, and disturbing, but also slightly pretentious. Regeneration, by Pat Barker, is the first book in the Regeneration Trilogy, which deals with WWI and the effect the war had on the men who fought in it. I hesitate to classify this as historical fiction, as the topic is so timely. While this book is set during WWI, it could just as easily be set today. Parts of this book felt like historical fiction, parts felt like literary fiction, and other parts felt like I was reading nonfiction commentary about war. While this is an important book, I don’t know that it is a book that I enjoyed reading, nor is it a book that I would recommend without the huge disclaimer that this book is exceedingly disturbing. There is a treatment scene at the end of the book that was horrific to read.
Later, in the electrical room, as Callan began slowly to repeat the alphabet, walking up and down with Yealland, in and out of the circle of light, Rivers had felt that he was witnessing the silencing of a human being. Indeed, Yealland had come very close to saying just that. ‘You must speak, but I shall not listen to anything you have to say.’
There were parts of this book that had that pretentious air that some books have. Usually at the slightest hint of pretention I stop reading, but I pressed on here as I was truly invested in these characters.
It suits him to attribute everything I’ve done to to to to… a state of mental breakdown, because then he doesn’t have to ask himself any awkward questions. Like why he agrees with me about the war and does nothing about it.
Set during WWI, at Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh, Regeneration brings in real life people, like the poet Siegfried Sassoon, his weary army psychiatrist, William Rivers, and fellow patient, war poet Wilfred Owen. The scenes between the different patients and the psychiatrist Rivers were fascinating to read. Rivers is drained from his work trying to help these men, and he is as much of a character as his patients are.
You’re thinking of breakdown as a reaction to a single traumatic event, but it’s not like that. It’s more a matter of…erosion. Weeks and months of stress in a situation where you can’t get away from it.
The themes of this book are intense and powerful, and while I can say that this is a good book, an important book, I am not sure that I will go on to read the rest of the trilogy. Maybe some day.
A society that devours its own young deserves no automatic or unquestioning allegiance. Perhaps the rebellion of the old might count for rather more than the rebellion of the young. Certainly poor Siegfried’s rebellion hadn’t counted for much, though he reminded himself that he couldn’t know that. It had been a completely honest action and such actions are seeds carried on the wind. Nobody can tell where, or in what circumstances, they will bear fruit.
Bottom Line: Powerful, haunting, and disturbing.
Have you read the Regeneration Trilogy?