Sunday, 26 July 2020

The Ghost Road by Pat Barker

The Ghost Road by Pat Barker
First published in the UK by Viking in 1995.

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

1918, the closing months of the war. Army psychiatrist William Rivers is increasingly concerned for the men who have been in his care - particularly Billy Prior, who is about to return to combat in France with young poet Wilfred Owen. As Rivers tries to make sense of what, if anything, he has done to help these injured men, Prior and Owen await the final battles in a war that has decimated a generation. The Ghost Road is a vivid and unforgettable account of the devastating final months of the First World War.

I swept on into reading The Ghost Road straight after finishing the second of the trilogy, The Eye In The Door, because I was so keen to remain in the compelling world Barker portrays throughout the trilogy. In hindsight, I wonder if actually leaving a short refreshment gap between the novels, as I had done between Regeneration and The Eye In The Door, might have been a better idea. I can't put my finger exactly on what the problem was, but I was a little disappointed to find that The Ghost Road didn't grip me in the same way. Don't get me wrong, I still think this is a good novel, but it just didn't feel as amazing.

There are three strands to the story, each one woven around the theme of death and our perceptions of it. Dr Rivers is trying to come to terms with curing men only for them to be sent back to the Front. He is also remembering his studies of a native people in Melanesia before the war, particularly their end of life beliefs and rituals which, as he dreams the scenarios he witnessed, seem far more compassionate and humane than the mechanised slaughter of Europe. And Billy Prior continues shagging his way around London, becoming more and more reckless towards his personal safety as his time to be shipped back to France approaches.

Barker's understanding of her characters and their motivations remains superb and I liked the way she captures the seemingly endless waiting the soldiers endure in France. Through the whole book though, I had the sensation that it had all gone on too long and, for the War itself of course, that was very true. Rumours of the impending Armistice are whispered up and down the lines despite the Generals' best efforts, but still the soldiers wait and fight, kill and die.

Etsy Find!
by Waihunga in
New Zealand

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Books by Pat Barker / War fiction / Books from England

1 comment:

  1. A great find from a thrift store! Though it sure seems like a heavy read, war stories are always like that though. Nothing good about war...