Sunday, July 14, 2013

Pat Barker's Regeneration

I read Pat Barker's Regeneration, part of a minor World War I kick I'm currently in. It is historical fiction, focusing on Dr. Rivers, a British officers who treats cases of what we would generally now call Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Siegfried Sassoon, a published poet who has proclaimed himself a pacifist, is one of his patients at a hospital in Edinburgh. Both of them are real people (and you can download Sassoon's book of poems, Counter-Attack, for free because by now it is in the public domain).

It is the first book in a trilogy, and the end of the novel hints at what is to come, namely an examination of the brutal methods many doctors employed in soldiers with neurological problems. They often amounted to torture, as with electric shocks. Rivers is the exception, and he reminds me so much of Major Sidney Freedman in the TV show MASH, who empathizes with his patients yet also understands sometimes to his own dismay that he is "curing" them so that they can go back to the front and face more of the same horrors.

There isn't a plot, really, but it is beautifully written and as with the best of historical fiction Barker makes you not only feel the characters, but learn more about them. It is all so sad. World War I involved unbelievable slaughter but there was too little understanding of how it affected those who lived. Unfortunately, a century later we've definitely advanced but not as much as we should.


Lillie Langtry 11:18 AM  

I loved the whole trilogy, and the film of Regeneration is very good as well.

I'd go for Wilfred Owen's poems over Sassoon's though.

Greg Weeks 7:26 PM  

I will have to check it out.

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