A review of The Ghost Road, a novel by Pat Barker.
This novel is set in England, late 1918. It won the Booker Prize.
The story deals with two men whose paths are related. Billy Prior, an officer who has three tours of duty under his belt, goes back to France for a fourth time almost fatalistic in his outlook. Meanwhile, a psychiatrist who once dealt with Prior, Dr. William Rivers, finds himself while feverish with flu mentally plunged back into his experiences with a tribe of south seas islanders, headhunters drenched in mysticism and ghost-ritual who are no longer allowed to hunt heads. These fever dreams give him new insights into how he deals with his patients.
I learned after reading this book that it's the third in a trilogy. I'm a stickler for reading things in the right order, but the book doesn't appear to exclude newcomers; I was immediately drawn into its harrowing drama. Barker blends the historical and fictional seamlessly (the poet Wilfred Owen is a character, and Rivers was historical as well), and writes of the carnage, camaraderie and ritual of war so well, you’d think she was a WWI veteran. She's an intelligent writer who easily weilds an almost poetic prose.
She’s also very capable of writing from a male perspective. Perhaps she goes overboard in the virility department, in fact, making Prior rather omnisexual. Also, she spreads the homosexual experiences rather thickly on the ground in my opinion. But then, maybe the British officer class during the Great War really was riddled with buggery. And then, too, perhaps Barker uses sexuality as a metaphor for the frantic, necessary comradeship of soldiers in war.
I was really moved by this haunting, imaginative and insightful look at WWI and its larger themes.
Sunday Warbooks casualty count:
Greco-Persian wars: 1
Iraq wars: 2