Review: The Eye in the Door, by Pat Barker

This second novel in the Regeneration Trilogy continues to expose the horrors of war, through the lives of several men recovering from psychological trauma.  Billy Prior, recently released from Craiglockhart hospital, remains under the care of psychiatrist Dr. William Rivers. Prior works in a London-based intelligence unit, investigating an alleged assassination plot.  Barker elegantly weaves the threads of Prior’s mental state, his personal relationships, and the assassination plot into a fairly interesting story.  As with Regeneration, this book shows a side of the war seldom seen in “mainstream” literature and films, which tend to glamorize combat.  And in this installment, Barker also shows how the war has affected British culture, whipping up patriotism and stifling dissent.

But here’s the thing: in the first fourteen pages, the reader is treated to one episode of heterosexual foreplay, followed almost immediately by a more graphic gay sex scene.  OK, the character is bisexual, I get it.  Ms. Barker, why didn’t you just say so?  Did you have to hit me over the head with it?  Barker is clearly sympathetic towards her gay and bisexual characters, and accurately portrays the “double life” led by most gay men at that time.  The secrecy and repression were quite sad, really.  I just felt the erotic scenes were a bit gratuitous.

Having said that, I enjoyed reading more about Dr. Rivers and learning of his treatment methods.   This book is a fairly quick read and I am looking forward to completing the trilogy.

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9 thoughts on “Review: The Eye in the Door, by Pat Barker

    • No surprise, Wendy! I really struggled with writing this review … it was a good book in a way, but could have been better !

  1. I haven’t read this yet. Would the sex scenes be Barker’s way of ‘showing not telling’ when it comes to the characters’ sexuality?

    I loved Regeneration but the reviews I’ve read of the following two books in the trilogy have seemed a bit less positive. Which is strange given that the 3rd one won the prize…

    • Marieke, I didn’t have a problem with Barker using a “show not tell” technique, but I guess it was just so over the top and literally the first thing that happens in the book. Just not subtle at all!!

      As for The Ghost Road winning the Booker, there’s a comment on my review of Regeneration which I think is spot on: the prize was awarded more for the entire trilogy than the third book. The three books together are probably about as long as the 2009 winner, Wolf Hall !!

  2. Ah, that makes more sense, then, if the prize really went to the whole trilogy. I was wondering why/how. I guess I will need to read all three, then!

    Just to play devil’s advocate, does the sexuality need to be subtle? Or was it unexpected because of how subtly it was dealt with in the first book?

    • Hello again Marieke. You’re posing some thought-provoking questions. As a rule I’m not bothered by sex scenes in literature, and they don’t need to be subtle. I’ve just spent about 10 minutes trying to compose a reply to your comment that explains my thinking and makes sense … and I keep starting over. You can bet I’ll be thinking about more about what it was exactly that bothered me !

  3. I remember hearing a heterosexual male actor saying that he was asked repeatedly how he dealt with the love scenes in which he played a homosexual man and how he was surprised that nobody had ever asked him how hard it was to act the part of a serial killer (which, apparently he had also done). I was reminded of this because I found a few scenes in the Regeneration novels disturbing, but not the sex scenes!

    Whether the scenes “worked” for you as a reader, or whether they were too graphic, is something else entirely, but I didn’t find them gratuitous, unwarranted. I think these first two scenes are carefully placed in close proximity to demonstrate the forced fracture in the character’s identity; otherwise readers might simply accept the “charade” of Prior’s relationship with Sarah, which might be conventional and acceptable but isn’t what he ultimately wants. And the scene with Manning, is actually cut a bit short, isn’t it? The action clearly continues after the chapter ends, but we’re expected to use our imaginations for the rest! ::grin::

  4. I found reading TEITD took me a little longer than it took me to read Regeneration but that could have been because I’d read the first volume before; in any case The Ghost Road felt as though it read in half the time. So if you’re looking forward to finishing, you might be pleased to know it finishes faster than you might have thought!

    • I’ll be reading The Ghost Road in the next couple of weeks and I’m really looking forward to it! I saw that you posted your review today but I just “starred” it in my reader because I want to wait until I’ve read it myself.

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