Book Review

WAR #1: Pat Barker’s Regeneration Trilogy

read some great fiction for the first time in a while; still bored bored bored tho boohoo

In a rate return to Triumph of the Now’s roots, I’m typing this part of this blog three drinks in and in a bad mood.

Here in 2021, it’s rare for me to write these posts boozy (though, I suppose, it’s also rare for me to write anything at all at the moment – a thousand blog words a week is nothing), but…

yes.

I’ve spent a few weeks reading only bad or mediocre books, so I wanted to dive into something good. Great, even.

Something good enough to remind me that literature – the one thing I remain alive for – is worth being alive for. Pat Barker’s mid-90s First World War trilogy – of course, it’s famously fucking brilliant – delivers.

Regeneration (1991)

Double yah double yah one. Dubdub whon.

Werld wer Whun.

This is a novel I’ve been vaguely intending to read for well over a decade: the kind of book I’d pick up in a Waterstones, an Indigo, a Borders waaay back in the day, consider but then ultimately reject, and the kind of novel that would be more likely found in a charity shop than a solid second hand book shop.

Fuck, sorry, I’m distracted.

I don’t write about my day job on here very often (because it’s disappointing to reveal to other people that a moderately successful “literary lifestyle” blog and a few books published by little indie presses isn’t enough to pay for organic dog food), but it’s tumultuous enough for me to need to at the moment.

I regularly write about and link to writing about being diagnosed with a personality disorder on here, and as the people I work for are very socially conservative (by my standards), I’m sure that if they read (or were aware of) my blog they would have manufactured a reason to fire me by now, and I’m sure they would have done it in a way that prevented me from litigating for unfair dismissal (I doubt I would do that, though, because I’m not Morrissey and I don’t think anyone owes me a living, also that kind of thing is a real hassle).

Christ fuck I miss the people that matter to me.

I don’t text them because I have nothing to report, nothing to say.

I wish they’d text me, but when – increasingly infrequently – they do, I just ignore it, because I’m ashamed ashamed ashamed of myself.

This novel is excellent. Powerful. Moving.

Good. I hope there’s a little bit more eroticism in the following two volumes.

23.50, 4th August

The Eye in the Door (1993)

And we move on and on and on.

It is the evening of August 9th.

Had a very busy working week, and I fear that said busyness is never going to calm.

I’ve been quite aggressively – to the point where I’d say unprofessionally – pressured into accepting a change in role which technically amounts to a promotion but in reality means I will do a lot more admin and do a lot less of any of the parts of my job I actually like.

I’m already aching with boredom day in, day out, but now that it looks likely the handful of working hours in which I don’t have that feeling will be removed, I see nothing but dull, affectless, apathy for myself for the majority of my waking hours for the rest of the year. Christ, it’s a bad prospect.

Anyway, I will keep reading and blogging through the dullness as I always do. I wish I had the time, the energy, the inspiration, to write again properly now, but I don’t. I don’t, as I’ve said, have anything.

///

When I finished reading Regeneration, I said to my lover “I enjoyed that, but I wish it had more sex in it.” Clearly, Pat Barker (or someone else involved in the production of its sequel, The Eye in the Door) had the same idea. 

Here we have frottage in Kew Gardens, some inter-class anal in a swanky West End townhouse, tit-sucking in a Salford back street, and lots more.

Rather than the Edinburgh of the first book, this novel is set mostly in London, with a few excursions elsewhere – often in the pursuit of “conchies”, the “conscientious objectors” to the war.

There’s split personalities and lots about the legacy of Oscar Wilde, there’s the discussion of criminalised homosexuality, there’s lots about the ethics of war and the ethics of discipline and the pointlessness of what was happening on the battlefields of France, which was – as I’ve discussed before – class and generation-based genocide, the main point of which was to prevent internationalised class consciousness and solidarity. The First World War was violent propaganda and suppression.

Anyway, yeah, the novel is great. I don’t have much to say tbh. I’m sorry.

The Ghost Road (1995)

Now it’s the tenth and the trilogy concludes.

More in France, in the horrors of war, more about colonialism and poshos travelling the world. More sex, but less love, more fear and more anger and more violence but less compassion, less hope.

The novel is, obviously, moving towards death. I know Wilfred Owen didn’t survive the war, and a fictional character fighting alongside him a week or so before the armistice is likely unsurvivable…

It’s a powerful, potent, novel, though it doesn’t quite seem to ever explore the meaninglessness of the war: there is a mockery and a sidelining of characters who express ideas that would be broadly considered as accurate (by leftists/progressives), and this feels like an authorial opinion rather than a dramatic irony thing, y’know?

Weirdly (almost creepily), Barker wrote other novels set during the first world war, which kinda undercuts the power of this trilogy, somehow.

Three books is a lot, but three books is a trilogy. Five books (or more, who knows?) about a genocidal event that happened decades before you were born seems a bit… I dunno… excusatory.

I mean, I’m being a dick.

It’s an excellent set of novels.

Very much classic top tier popular British literary fiction: if that’s not your bag, give it a miss, but if you’ve ever considered reading this – as I did for over a decade – it’s definitely worth your time.

I’m dreading going to work tomorrow, fuck.

Not a good way to feel!

1 comment on “WAR #1: Pat Barker’s Regeneration Trilogy

  1. Pingback: All Quiet On The Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque – Triumph Of The Now

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