The third book in Pat Barker’s Regeneration Trilogy continues the story of Billy Prior, a British officer in World War I. In the first book, Prior was treated for shell-shock at Craiglockhart, a hospital in Scotland. In the second book, he struggled to find his way in civilian society and battle personal demons, with the help of Dr. William Rivers. In The Ghost Road, Prior is approved to return to service at the front. In the first part of the book, Prior puts his affairs in order, visiting his ailing sister, his fiancée, and Rivers. Prior is keen to prove he is one of Rivers’ success stories, by being able to keep his nerves steady even as he returns to the source of his troubles.
Prior also starts a diary. The reader is able to experience his eagerness to return, and his world-weary view of both the conditions and the new recruits. Meanwhile, Rivers remains in London, treating injured soldiers. Prior’s diary entries alternate with Rivers’ memories of working with native people in Melanesia, work that was set aside when the war began. Through the lives of both men, Barker continues her theme of war protest, while exploring and exposing a number of truths about individuals and society.
Having now read the complete Regeneration Trilogy, I agree with a comment on one of my January blog posts:
It seems to me that the Booker for “The Ghost Road” was something akin to the Oscar for the last Lord of the Rings film – it was really a recognition of the whole trilogy.
The Ghost Road was a powerful book, especially as Prior’s diary unfolds. But the strength of this book comes from taking it as a whole with its predecessors, immersing yourself in the lives of these characters, and reflecting on the realities of war.
Previous books in this trilogy (click to read my review):