Saturday, November 3, 2007


By Pat Barker

Appropriately, I bought this novel in the In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres and read it while touring some of the First World War battlefields of the Ypres Salient and the Somme. Perhaps heightened by my physical proximity to some of the locations and events described in the book, I found that it offered a particularly chilling and compelling perspective on the war and its psychological effects on many of the young men who experienced its horrors first hand.

At the core of Regeneration is the relationship between
Siegfried Sassoon and Dr. W. H. R. Rivers, an army psychologist, during Sassoon’s hospitalisation at Craiglockhart in 1917. According to official military channels Sassoon was suffering from shell shock, but in reality he had run afoul of the military authorities when he had the audacity to question the political motivations behind the war in his Soldiers Declaration, which had become public. Wanting to avoid the publicity of a courts martial, the authorities had him diagnosed with shell shock (How else to explain his Declaration?) and sent him to Craiglockhart to be rehabilitated under the care of Dr. Rivers. (This is all factual.)

While Sassoon, Dr. Rivers, and many of the other patients at Craiglockhart are historical figures, Barker has woven them into a fictionalized account that is compassionate and disturbing. Through her writing the reader shares the wartime experiences of some of these young men and gains a far deeper understanding and appreciation for their resulting mental conditions. Her descriptions of some of the “treatments” offered at Craiglockhart also provide an insight into the primitive state of psychotherapy at that time, equally disturbing to our modern sensibilities.

This is the first book in Barker’s Regeneration Trilogy. I will surely read all three. This is a good read, and particularly recommended if you have an interest in the stories of the men and women of The Great War.

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