Saturday, May 9, 2009

Review of The Ghost Road

The Ghost Road is the third and final book in Pat Barker's Regeneration Trilogy. It is set during the closing months of World War I, and centers around Dr. William Rivers, a psychologist treating mentally and physically injured patients from the front.

Unlike Regeneration where the story focused on Dr. Rivers as he treated patients, The Ghost Road picks up where The Eye in the Door left off. Billy Prior, one of Dr. River's more interesting patients is heading back to the front despite his asthma and potential for split personalities in highly stressful situations. Rivers continues to treat patients returning from the war with shell shock and psychological trauma back in England. However, the story also consists of several flashbacks to River's time as a missionary doctor in Melanesia.

As the final book in the trilogy (and winner of the Booker Prize), I had high hopes for The Ghost Road. Unfortunately, it didn't compare to the other two books. I found the flashbacks to River's time in Melanesia distracting from the arc of the storyline following the war and Prior's return to the front. This was the first time in the series when the reader is actually taken to the war itself as we follow Prior to France and experience the battles through him. Although the horrors of the war are terrifying to read about, it's as though, as a reader, the time has come to experience it alongside him -- having read two entire books describing the horrors through the psychological havoc it has inflicted on the men fighting, the reader is ready to "see" what could have created such damage. Although difficult to read about, the parts of the book that took place in France were the most riveting.

My guess is that Barker won the Booker prize for this third book as a nod to the trilogy itself (similar to Peter Jackson's Oscar win for 'The Return of the King', even though it was nowhere near the best film of the three). It's worth the read to bring Rivers' and Prior's stories to a close, just don't expect it to be the best one.


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