The Regeneration trilogy by Pat Barker is a powerful set of novels based around the real experiences of individuals during the First World War. Regeneration begins in Craiglockhart Military Hospital. It is the job of army psychologist Dr Rivers to rehabilitate officers who are shellshocked. The high profile poet and officer Siegfried Sassoon has been sent there because he has publicly denounced the war.
The great war poet Wilfred Owen is also being treated at Craiglockhart. The traumatic experiences that he and other officers relate show the brutality and madness of trench warfare. Dr Rivers increasingly doubts the worth of his work. As soon as he 'cures' his patients and enables them to deal with the horrors they have seen, they will be sent back to more pain and probable death.
His attempts to gently counsel the officer class back to health are starkly contrasted to a visit to an army doctor who treats the lower ranking working class soldiers. A mute soldier is cruelly tortured with electric shocks to the tongue till he regains his speech and will follow orders again.
Rivers also treats Billy Prior. He is a working class officer who has worked hard to rise through the ranks. He is also temporarily suffering from muteness. He is full of bitter class anger at the treatment he and other working class people have received at the hands of the army and the state. The characters are further developed as The Eye in The Door and The Ghost Road follow their stories through the war.
The three novels make a gripping read. The brutality of war that devastates individuals' lives and the callousness of the authorities are convincingly portrayed, and never fail to shock.
The Regeneration trilogy by Pat Barker is available from Bookmarks. Phone 020 7637 1848
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