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Regeneration by Pat Barker
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Regeneration (1991)

by Pat Barker

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Regeneration Trilogy (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3,945992,109 (4.02)643
Stressed by the war, poet, pacifist, and protestor Siegfried Sassoon is sent to Craiglockhart Hospital, where his views challenge the patriotic vision of Dr. William Rivers, a neurologist assigned to restore the sanity of shell-shocked soldiers.
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    pellethepoet: Brief biography of Dr. Rivers, the psychiatrist who treated Siegfried Sassoon at Craiglockhart War Hospital
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» See also 643 mentions

English (91)  Dutch (4)  German (2)  Finnish (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (99)
Showing 1-5 of 91 (next | show all)
A Book About War*

The Author's Notes at the end of my copy of Regeneration discuss the intermingling of and need to separate the actual people from the fictional characters in the novel as an aide to the reader. From what I can tell, all of the main characters save one was a real person, and after reading it I'm unclear what parts of the novel are truly fictional. I think this book would be well served by a preface from someone other than the author clearly delineating the fictional events more than the characters.

The story revolves around several patients at Craiglockhart, a British hospital treating combat veterans suffering shell shock, and one of the doctors practicing there, H.W.R. Rivers. One of the patients, Seigfried Sassoon, is a conscientious objector who, while perturbed by his war experiences, is not truly suffering shell shock. Both Rivers and Sassoon were actual people. As the story progresses, Rivers suffers his own version of shell shock even as he cures several of his patients of it. This role reversal is the part I struggled most with, as he seems to be imbued with thoughts and emotions more apropos of the time the book was written than the time during which it occurred. There are several authorial intrusions into the narrative, and in the end I felt that she was depicting Rivers as healed from his incorrect objective of curing soldiers to return to combat.

For a Booker Award nominated book, the writing is hit and miss. It has wonderful imagery, such as one soldier's girlfriend who bears an aureole of hair surrounding her yellow-tinged skin (a condition she has acquired working in a munitions factory) that makes her appear both as a savior and a death-head, and a discussion of a chrysalis as a symbol of decay rather than transformation. There are also times Barker intrudes into the narrative and tells the reader what to feel rather than letting her images do the work. I particularly struggled with her description of an event in a rather trite dream sequence as an "oral rape" and an out-of-place reference to American slavery when discussing the same dream. There were also multiple unexplained details, such as a soldier being given two white feathers when he first appears in public in civilian clothes, which evoke the period well but are lost without the benefit of google.

The book contains little in the way of suspense in its plot; we know that Sassoon will be sent back to France essentially from the opening pages. While the traumas suffered by the patients are truly awful, their analysis from Rivers' sympathetic viewpoint removes much of the horror and makes them feel antiseptic at times. I think Regeneration is worth reading, but there are better books about the Great War and wonder whether it was always envisioned as the first book in a trilogy and so is diminished by that.

* - I've had to set my themed reading list aside for now, as I'm taking a couple literature classes this summer through a state program that provides free tuition for Texas residents over 55. This novel is assigned for my War and Literature class that's focused on the First World War. ( )
  skavlanj | May 28, 2020 |
Just incredible. So vivid. Really human perspective on the First World War. I absolutely loved it, and can't recommend it enough. ( )
  RFellows | Apr 29, 2020 |
A capable, literary piece of historical fiction, recreating the time when war poet Siegfried Sassoon was convalescing in a military hospital in 1917. His conversations with the hospital psychiatrist, Rivers, form the meat of this clean and readable piece. Author Pat Barker sums up the central angst of the book better than I can:

"The vast majority of his [Rivers'] patients had no record of any mental trouble. And as soon as you accepted that the man's breakdown was a consequence of his war experience rather than of his own innate weakness, then inevitably the war became the issue. And the therapy was a test, not only of the genuineness of the individual's symptoms, but also of the validity of the demands the war was making on him." (pg. 115)

This is a very interesting dynamic, and the conversations, setting and style feel authentic. However, the book loses its way about halfway through, and it becomes difficult to see what Barker wants us to engage with. There's nothing that sinks the novel, but there's little to elevate it either, and it remains a lesser piece in the competitive anti-war genre. ( )
  Mike_F | Nov 11, 2019 |
Certainly not your typical book about war, the narrative centers around a British officer in World War I who declares his opposition to the war and is subjected to psychological treatment to bring his thinking back to "normal". This really should be a companion piece to Joseph Heller's Catch-22, even if written in a much more "serious" manner. While fictional, the story is very much based on true events and actual characters. Despite that solid foundation, I found the writing too often out of focus and less than clear as to the writer's intent. This book is the first of a highly regarded trilogy, the later books getting stronger praise, so I'm unclear at this point if this is really the lesser of the three books, and should continue with the series, or if writer's style will always be a step behind the power of her subject. Ultimately, it's a thought-provoking read, if not always satisfying. ( )
  larryerick | Aug 23, 2018 |
Excerpts from my original GR review (Mar 2009):
- I liked this book overall. Three general issues prevented full enjoyment: One, this is a very British story and I was stalled by the verbiage in the dialogue numerous times. Two, character "background" is extremely lacking, so that I actually felt I was thrust into an ongoing story (in fact I couldn't help feeling this was the middle, not the start, of a trilogy). Third, other than River's rare use of the phrase, the soldiers' suffering of "shell-shock" doesn't seem very clear (maybe that was intended).
- On the good side, the story kept a steady pace, the writing was concise and Rivers is a well-developed focal point in the story. I don't think I'll continue through the trilogy though. ( )
  ThoughtPolice | Apr 14, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 91 (next | show all)

» Add other authors (6 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Barker, Patprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dijk, Edith vanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kim, LuciaCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nevinson, CRWCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Dedication
For David, and in loving memory of

Dr John Hawkings (1922 - 1987)
First words
I am making this statement as an act of wilful defiance of military authority, because I believe the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it.
Quotations
Anna didn't believe in love. She thought when a man loved a woman it was as the fox loves the hare, and when a woman loved a man it was as a tapeworm loves the gut.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Pat Barker's Regeneration is the opening salvo in her trilogy of novels about the young men who fought in the First World War, the third of which--The Ghost Road--won the 1995 Booker Prize. Based on the real life meeting between the poet and anti-war protestor Siegfried Sassoon and army psychologist W. H. R. Rivers in 1917, Regeneration is a vivid evocation of the agony of the Front as well as a powerful anthem for doomed youth.
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Average: (4.02)
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1 15
1.5 1
2 36
2.5 10
3 145
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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141030933, 0141045523

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