On my summer holiday I immersed myself in World War I, thanks to a friend who loaned me all three parts of Pat Barker's trilogy: Regeneration, The Eye in the Door and The Ghost Road (Plume/Penguin). This is a large and important work conveniently packaged in three smaller portions. The first story takes place in a hospital for shell-shocked officers. Here we meet the psychiatrist William Rivers and several of his patients, some of whom stay with us through the other two books. Even though the action takes place in the relative safety of England, through the memories that haunt Rivers' patients we get a vivid picture of the horrors of the trenches and the moral dilemmas of war. And having the complete trilogy piled up beside me was such a luxury: after finishing one book I only had to wait a respectable amount of time for digestion (an hour, say) before plunging into the next one.
To finish off the feast I also took along Barker's newest book, Another World (Viking), which also deals with World War I memories, but in a modern context. Helen is researching a book about combat memories and how they are affected by the public perception of the war, and she has gotten to know Geordie, a veteran of the trenches. Now Geordie is dying of cancer (just his old bayonet wound acting up again), and as his health fails his war nightmares re-turn. The book is also about Nick, Geordie's grandson, who is trying to care for Geordie and cope with dissension in his own young family, but this part of the plot is weaker and, fresh from the trilogy, I couldn't help but see Pat Barker as Helen and Geordie as a composite of the men she must have interviewed.