Book Review: Regeneration by Pat Barker (Regeneration Trilogy #1)

RegenerationCoverOfficial Synopsis from the back of the book: In 1917 Siegfried Sassoon, noted poet and decorated war hero, publicly refused to continue serving as a British officer in World War I. His reason: the war was a senseless slaughter. He was officially classified “mentally unsound” and sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital. There a brilliant psychiatrist, Dr. William Rivers, set about restoring Sassoon’s “sanity” and sending him back to the trenches. This novel tells what happened as only a novel can. It is a war saga in which not a shot is fired. It is a story of a battle for a man’s mind in which only the reader can decide who is the victor, who the vanquished, and who the victim. It is one of the most amazing feats of fiction of our time. Regeneration is the first novel of Pat Barker’s acclaimed World War I trilogy, which continues with The Eye in the Door and culminates in the 1995 Booker Prize—winning The Ghost Road.

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.

Links to Regeneration on   Amazon |    Goodreads

Have you read the Regeneration Trilogy?


7 thoughts on “Book Review: Regeneration by Pat Barker (Regeneration Trilogy #1)

  1. I knew something sounded familiar – I seem to have a book (a big book) that contains the entire trilogy, you know, should you care to read more …someday. I shall put this very thoughtful review in the book in case I forget and think maybe I will read it one day – it doesn’t sound like something I could take. Thanks for the good review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! Yeah, this book was super intense and hard to read in places. I can only guess that the books get more and more intense as the trilogy goes on, which makes me less likely to ever want to read them.


  2. We were assigned the third book in a British lit class when I was in college. It’s been so long that I don’t remember any of it, but I did not know it was part of a trilogy. The only thing I remember is being fascinated that Pat is a woman. People have argued that women can’t write what they don’t know, and thus we get chick lit. Pat sure makes those folks look stupid.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting that they would’ve taught the last book of a trilogy instead of the first book. Huh. I think I did read somewhere that you don’t have to read the books in order and they can be read as standalones, but some of the characters are the same throughout the books. I think the third book was the award winning book, so maybe someday I’ll get to it. I did really like the psychiatrist, and I think he’s in all three books.
      Yeah, the author clearly did a lot of research into PTSD and interviewing soldiers and reading their writings/letters. That’s why I was hesitant to put that “historical fiction” label as a genre. Even though it is, it transcends that because it could be set in today’s time, with today’s wars, and it just felt so real.

      Liked by 1 person

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