By Pat Barker
Completed October 25, 2010
One of my favorite eras of poetry is the War Poets – a group of British soldiers who served during World War I and used their poetry to express their disillusionment with the war. After learning that Regeneration, the first in a trilogy by Pat Barker, features two war poets, Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, I couldn’t wait to read it.
Regeneration focuses primarily on Sassoon and his stay at Craiglockhart, a hospital for World War I soldiers who were experiencing post-traumatic stress syndrome. Sassoon was sent to Craiglockhart after writing his famous Finished With The War: A Soldier’s Declaration – an open letter of protest, which alluded that the British government was prolonging England’s involvement in World War I (and at the expense of young British men). At Craiglockhart, we meet an interesting cast of characters, including Sassoon’s physician, W.H.R. Rivers, Owens and many soldiers who were traumatized by their time in the trenches.
Barker does a spectacular job depicting the stress of the soldiers at Craiglockhart. Many had nightmares, screaming fits and panic attacks, while others experienced physical symptoms such as mutism and paralysis. Sherman once said that “war is hell” – and there’s no mistaking its terrible effects on the men staying at this hospital.
Though written about a war almost 100 years ago, the messages about war’s atrocities bears much relevance to today. Regeneration is a cerebral book, delivering its readers to much introspection about the characters and their circumstances. I look forward to reading the other books in this trilogy. ( )