Regeneration by Pat Barker
I picked this book up from Oxfam, serendipitously. However I had certainly heard of the author, since she won the Booker prize in 1995. This is the first book in a trilogy, and I intend to read the others now.
The story is based on a true event, which I already knew about from my university studies of war poets, when the soldier and poet Siegfried Sassoon wrote a public letter protesting about the conduct of the war in 1917. Sassoon was sent to an Edinburgh hospital and encountered Rivers, an Army Psychologist. The book centres on these characters, with the focus shifting more towards Rivers towards the end. It explores their personalities, views and the relationship between them, in which they influence each other. But the book brings in several other characters, vividly describing the horrific war experiences that had shattered them psychologically.
Other real life characters come into the story, such as Wilfred Owen and Robert Graves. I feel that there is a slight artificiality and ‘researched’ element in some of the episodes. In the end, I felt the book was somewhat episodic, and did not fully hang together. Particularly I did not get under the skin of Sassoon himself. The book veered away from him, finding more interest in the other diverse minor characters.
What I particularly remember is the love story about Prior, one of the patients, and Sarah, who works in a local ammunition factory. This was the strongest and most intimate human story.
This is a compelling book, which kept me reading in my room in the Imperial Hotel, as I struggled with jet lag. A bad choice of book for such circumstances, since it hardly helped me sleep peacefully, leaving vivid images of war in my brain!