Saturday, 4 July 2020

The Eye In The Door by Pat Barker

The Eye In The Door by Pat Barker
First published in the UK by Viking in 1993.

How I got this book:
Bought the paperback at a charity shop

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

London, 1918. Billy Prior is working for Intelligence in the Ministry of Munitions. But his private encounters with women and men - pacifists, objectors, homosexuals - conflict with his duties as a soldier, and it is not long before his sense of himself fragments and breaks down. Forced to consult the man who helped him before - army psychiatrist William Rivers - Prior must confront his inability to be the dutiful soldier his superiors wish him to be. The Eye in the Door is a heart-rending study of the contradictions of war and of those forced to live through it.

I previously read The Eye In The Door about eight years ago, some two years after reading the first in this trilogy, Regeneration. I remember having forgotten so much about that first book that I struggled back then to connect the two and I felt that negatively impacted on my enjoyment of the work. Owning a copy of the whole trilogy this time around has meant that I am able to work through all three novels in fairly rapid succession which I am delighted to do. Barker's prose is so insightful and vivid, and I particularly love her ear for dialogue which always feels authentic even her characters are put in horribly difficult situations.

The symbol of the actual eye in the door, as it appears in one of the scenes, has stayed with me strongly though. It's such a creepy image and would certainly upset me as much as it does Billy Prior and, indeed, imprisoned Beattie Roper who must spend much of every day under its cold observation. I didn't know much about the scapegoating and related hysteria that gripped fashionable London towards the end of the First World War, and also learned about the awful treatment of conscientious objectors. The Eye In The Door is mostly set in a paranoid London, a city where spies lurk around every corner and the big German plot is apparently to derail the Establishment by outing 47,000 of them for socially unacceptable pecadilloes. For the upper echelons, the whole war is still effectively a game and Barker is brilliant at portraying the rigid British class structure.
Lode had no idea. He'd spent his entire adult life - boyhood too, for that matter - in uniformed, disciplined, hierarchical institutions and he simply couldn't conceive of the possibility that other people might function differently.It was all a great big chessboard to him.

I was so swept up in The Eye In The Door that I devoured the whole novel across an afternoon and an evening. To my mind at least, the first two novels of the Regeneration trilogy represent the epitome of English WW1 fiction and I can't wait to start on the third volume, The Ghost Road - the only one I haven't previously read.

Etsy Find!
by Tachilc in
the USA

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Books by Pat Barker / War fiction / Books from England

1 comment:

  1. I love that now you have the complete series you are rereading them to get the full experience. I have been known to leave sequels too long as well. It sounds like he can write incredibly well, especially the dialogue. I am glad you could race through this one and love it so much!