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The Eye in the Door by Pat Barker
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The Eye in the Door (original 1994; edition 1995)

by Pat Barker

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1,490344,982 (3.98)139
Member:writestuff
Title:The Eye in the Door
Authors:Pat Barker
Info:Plume (1995), Paperback, 288 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***1/2
Tags:Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction, 2008 Read, British Literature

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The Eye in the Door by Pat Barker (1994)

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Showing 1-5 of 34 (next | show all)
The second novel in Pat Barker’s WWI Regeneration trilogy, The Eye in the Door takes place in early 1918, when the war is going poorly for Britain and the nation is gripped by a scapegoating campaign against pacifists and homosexuals, led by right-wing MP Noel Pemberton Billing. This novel focuses less on the real characters of Dr. Rivers and Siegfried Sassoon (though they’re still present) and more on the entirely fictional construct of Billy Prior, a young officer who was formerly treated for trauma at Craiglockhart and is now working as an intelligence agent for the Ministry of Munitions in London.

I enjoyed this novel a fair bit more than Regeneration, because it expands the scope beyond the corridors of Craiglockhart and examines more fully how the First World War affected British society. It’s particularly interesting that, as in Regeneration, there are no scenes actually set at the front; we see this landscape of muddy trenches and shell craters quite often, but only ever in dialogue and memories and flashbacks and nightmares.

This was a dreadful place. Nothing human could live here. Nothing human did. He was entirely alone until, with a puckering of the surface, a belch of foul vapours, the mud began to move, to gather itself together, to rise and stand before him in the shape of a man. A man who turned and began striding towards England. He tried to call out, no, not that way, and the movement of his lips half woke him. But he sank down again, and again the mud gathered itself into the shape of a man, faster and faster until it seemed the whole night was full of such creatures, creatures composed of Flanders mud and nothing else, moving their grotesque limbs in the direction of home.

Barker has no illusions about the war – it was a brutal and ugly and above all pointless waste of human life, conducted between malevolent empires. This may seem like an obvious thing to say when these books were written in the 1990s, yet even today there are idiots who think that soldiers in WWI were “dying for our freedom;” twisting the circumstances of a past war to fit the political objectives of our modern wars. Britain, like most Western countries at the time, was a deeply unfree and undemocratic society in which women couldn’t vote, homosexuality was a jailable offence and the Irish people (right on Britain’s doorstep – let alone the people of Africa, India and South-East Asia) were brutally oppressed.

The Eye in the Door shows us the ugly side of British society in those years – the conscientious objectors who were beaten or arrested, whose families were shunned and had human shit shoved through the letter boxes, whose sons were dragged into prisons and beaten and kept naked in winter with a folded uniform left at the base of their beds. A society in which, even though a desperate war was going on, London’s newspapers were full of news about a ridiculous with-hunt of “sodomites,” spearheaded by a man later certified insane.

I’m glad I stuck with this series; I’m still not a massive fan of Barker’s writing style, but I appreciate her determination to uncover every unsanitary corner of a horrific time in history, and to give a voice to the segments of society our current leaders would prefer us to forget, even today, when we should know better. ( )
  edgeworth | Aug 24, 2014 |
In this second book of the trilogy, Barker continues to explore the effects of world war's battles, trenches, and inhumane conditions on the soldiers who came back to England to rest and recover from "battle fatigue". The books do not have a plot to drive from one chapter to another, just more and more about several characters. Issues of homosexuality and pacifism are identified as major barriers to acceptance of some of these soldiers. Evidently, England did have a wave of anti-homosexual hysteria during the war, and these "nancy" men were blamed, in part, for the poor progress of the war. England did, after all, expect to just march over there and sent the enemy running in short order, and as we know, that did not happen. Scapegoating is not a surprising reaction to this frustration.

I am liking the books because I have a life-long fascination with psychology and why people do what they do; the fact that these men were treated by a psychiatrist steeped in Freudian methodology makes some of the explanations interesting from a historical point of view. I appreciate the fact that Barker does not spare her psychiatrist from analysis also. He has his neurosis and it is occasionally analyzed and his resistance is noted. Barker has succeeded in making her characters, even the hard to love ones, attractive to the reader, in my case. I am rooting for them all to somehow survive this cataclysm, if not whole, at least still able to function and find some joy in living. It was a hard time to continue to see value in living, and this despair certainly makes recovery from "battle fatigue" a daunting journey.

I am interested to see what book 3 has to add.
  maggie1944 | Jul 24, 2014 |
You cant help but compare books that are part of a series, this being the second it is impossible not to compare it to the first. Billy Prior is now released from hospital, still in the military and still fighting demons from his experience of front line WWI. He is also fighting inner demons that haunt him from childhood, and fighting accepting a condition that he has that he becomes increasingly aware of throughout the novel.

The focus of this novel feels more scattered than the first. There are more characters that are highlighted, and it is difficult at first to see who we are meant to be following, and why. But soon, the flow is found and the story becomes exciting and so nicely revealed. The highlight for me in this book, as with the last, are the sections where Prior is talking to his psychiatrist, Rivers. In these sections the dialogue is so clever and sharp, it lets you right in on both the minds taking part in the conversations in which power play is important. Prior is determined not to feel the lesser man by being in the subordinate role of 'patient', he is after all an officer. He is in turn hostile, and matey with Rivers, who teases information out of him, getting him to come to conclusions about himself gently and impressively. It is wonderful to read, I give it 4 stars. ( )
  Ireadthereforeiam | Aug 26, 2013 |
Second in the trilogy, the story of Billy Prior takes centerstage in this book, with a short appearance by Siegfried Sassoon. The story continues with Billy Prior trying to help a past acquaintance, Beattie Roper, convicted of conspiracy to poison Lloyd George. He suspects someone of having framed her and through his position at the Ministry of Munitions, he slowly puts together a report that he hopes will shed light on the matter.

When visiting Beattie in prison, he notices a painted eye in the door. This eye is painted on all cell doors in prisons and leads to many a jailed pacifist or homosexual, targets of the British government and public's wrath, feeling that they're watched at all times.

His nightmares continue and he starts to suffer from an increasing number of fugue states where he has no recollection of what he may have said or done during these episodes. His weekly sessions with Dr Rivers attempt to understand the conditions that may be bringing on these episodes. The sessions are at times soothing,at times full of despair and frustration, and at times sinister, but throughout, these sessions provided men like Prior a safe haven in which they could try to come to honest terms with that which they would prefer to forget. ( )
  cameling | Aug 4, 2013 |
I didn't review this at the time of reading (and the time is only a guess). Oh no! Will try to cobble together a general impression.

This receives 4 stars only because it is not the pure, unadulterated genius of the first and third books in the series. It is still wonderful, but somehow the story didn't grip me quite as thoroughly. A relatively poor Pat Barker remains, however, an outstanding book, exploring compassionately and minutely, but somehow clearly, human inner conflict--in Billy Prior's case conflict that leads to, or is at the base of, serious affliction.

I love Pat Barker's writing, and now that I have finished the Regeneration trilogy I'm looking forward to exploring the rest of her oeuvre. ( )
  Vivl | Apr 9, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 34 (next | show all)
"The Eye in the Door" succeeds as both historical fiction and as sequel. Its research and speculation combine to produce a kind of educated imagination that is persuasive and illuminating . . . Occasionally the novel's pedagogic impulse, usually smoothly subterranean, surfaces. . . Ultimately, though, "The Eye in the Door" is an impressive work. . .
 
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It was on the moral side, and in my own person, that I learned to recognize the thorough and primitive duality of man; I saw that, of the two natures that contended in the field of my consciousness, even if I could rightly be said to be either, it was only because I was radically both...
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In formal beds beside the Serpentine, early tulips stood in tight-lipped rows.
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Book description
Dit tweede deel van Pat Barkers trilogie over de Eerste Wereldoorlog schildert de hysterie die in i 918 aan het Engelse thuisfront ontstaat. Pacifisten en homoseksuelen worden aangewezen als de oorzaak van een dreigende nederlaag. Luitenant Prior, die sinds hij aan het front de oogbal van een gesneuvelde kameraad in zijn hand heeft gehouden aan een oorlogstrauma lijdt, wordt ingezet tegen zijn vroegere pacifistische vrienden.
'...Als de romantrilogie voltooid is, heeft de moderne Britse literatuur er een monumentaal werk bij...'
De Volkskrant
'...een verbijsterend origineel stuk fictie, geënt op feiten. Geschreven in een intense, objectieve, volmaakt beheerste stijl../
The Sunday Telegraph
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0452272726, Paperback)

The Eye in the Door is the second installation of Pat Barker's acclaimed and haunting historical fiction trilogy about British soldiers traumatized by World War I trench warfare and the methods used by psychiatrist William Rivers to treat them. As with the other two, the book was recognized with awards, winning the 1993 Guardian Fiction Prize. Here, Lieutenant Billy Prior is tormented by figuring out which side of several coins does he live -- coward or hero, crazy or sane, homosexual or heterosexual, upper class or lower. He represents the upheaval in Britain during the war and the severe trauma felt by its soldiers. The writing is sparse yet multilayered; Barker uses the lives of a few to capture an entire society during a tumultuous period.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:30:55 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

In the spring of 1918. On the battlefields of France, a mammoth German offensive threatens the English army with defeat. In England itself, a beleaguered government and panic-stricken, vengeful public seek scapegoats. Two groups are targeted for persecution and prosecution: pacifists and homosexuals. Many are jailed, others lead dangerous double lives; and "the eye in the door" becomes a symbol of the paranoia that threatens to destroy the very fabric of British society. Central to this novel is Lieutenant Billy Prior, recently released from treatment for shell shock by psychiatrist Dr. William Rivers. Prior is in London, assigned to a domestic Intelligence unit. His position demands that he investigate an imprisoned female pacifist accused of plotting a political assassination - a woman who raised him as a child, and who now accuses him of betraying that childhood. At the same time, he has had a casual but intense sexual encounter with a fellow patient of Dr. Rivers - Charles Manning, an upperclass officer whose social status and battlefield wounds must shield him from the growing danger of his exposure as a homosexual. Billy Prior is the man in the middle: a child of the working class raised to the rank of officer and gentleman; a soldier scarred by the horror of war but loyal to the men in the trenches; a bisexual of omnivorous appetites and withered emotions; and above all, a human being who feels himself torn in two as he is asked to take sides.… (more)

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