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The Ghost Road ()

Booker Prize Winners (1995)

    Statement against the continuation of the War (1917)

    I am making this statement as an act of willful defiance of military authority, because I believe that
    the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it.

    I am a soldier, convinced that I am acting on behalf of soldiers. I believe that this war, upon which I
    entered as a war of defence and liberation, has now become a war of aggression and conquest. I
    believe that the purposes for which I and my fellow-soldiers entered upon this war should have been
    so clearly stated as to have made it impossible to change them, and that, had this been done, the
    objects which actuated us would now be attainable by negotiation.

    I have seen and endured the sufferings of the troops, and I can no longer be a party to prolong these
    sufferings for ends which I believe to be evil and unjust.

    I am not protesting against the conduct of the war, but against the political errors and insincerities
    for which the fighting men are being sacrificed.

    On behalf of those who are suffering now I make this protest against the deception which is being
    practiced on them; also I believe that I may help to destroy the callous complacence with which the
    majority of those at home regard the continuance of agonies which they do not share, and which
    they have not sufficient imagination to realize.

    -Siegfried L. Sassoon, July 1917

I read and mildly liked Regeneration, the first volume of Pat Barker's WWI trilogy.  It dealt with the true story Dr. William River's successful effort to heal the "mentally unsound" poet/hero/war protester Siegfried Sassoon and get him back to the Front.  With cameos by fellow poets Robert Graves and Wilfred Owen, there was a subtle homosexual subtext, but the heart of the story was the relative sanity or insanity of participating in war.  I could not read the second volume, The Eye in the Door, which concerns a secretly gay soldier's work with the domestic intelligence services, trying to expose gay officials who would be security risks.  And I tried to read this final volume, but will admit to skipping to the end after one too many ankle grabbing episode.  Near the end of the book I finally figured out what the point of the entire exercise is.  There is one scene where a drunken soldier confides to Wilfred Owen that the horrible thing about the War is that it is depriving them of  "Beethoven, Botticelli, beer and boys."  There it is in a nutshell.  Pat Barker's series conveys the strange sense that World War I was senseless because it upset a number of gay British poets and killed a fair number of their potential lovers.

To the extent that it has a broader premise, it is merely that war is bad and World War I was really bad.  She accepts all the stock premises about how incompetent the commanding generals were and how government officials cynically prolonged an unwinnable war for their own domestic political purposes.  And of course the noble soldiers, who had never wanted any part of this War, simply suffered for their nation's sins.  And if that was true of the coarse and uncultured commoners, imagine how much worse the sensitive poets must have suffered.  All of this has been the accepted wisdom about the War, the official Left version of events, so it is little surprise that these books have received such accolades.  But the last year has seen the publishing of the two best nonfiction books ever written about WWI, The Pity of War by Niall Ferguson and The First World War by John Keegan (read Orrin's review) and they explode these myths.  Upon further review, it turns out that the War was an unnecessary but popular endeavor, well lead though obviously ugly and the "winning" of it proved more disastrous than the fighting and carnage involved.

One of the folks reviewing this book said that:

    It was not until 1914 that words became inadequate to describe the horrors of war.

This appears to accurately reflect Barker's view, but it is completely asinine.  First, the idea that words can adequately describe war, second, the idea that the WWI generation was exceptional, that the presence of a bunch of minor poets on the front lines means that a great literature or a unique understanding came out of the war.  In truth, no soldier of WWI produced a work of literature that can approach the Civil War Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, a man whom these effete poets would have dismissed as brutal and dull.  WWI was a war like any other: those fighting it hated it, the combatants included everyone from gifted authors to cretinous scum, those who won the War mythologized it and the losers were left with a festering sore in their souls, which would eventually trigger the next World War.

So the book is based on a series of unexamined misconceptions, which is bad enough.  But by the time you get to to the scene of a British soldier buggering the living daylights out of a French farm boy, you'll be ready to burn it.  Actually, you may be lucky enough never to get that far, because I'm warning you now: This book is an abomination.

I do actually mildly recommend:
    -Regeneration (1992)


Grade: (F)


Book-related and General Links:
    -Featured Author: Pat Barker (With News and Reviews From the Archives of The New York Times)
    -Pat Barker  Biography, etc. (Mt. Mercy College)
    -INTERVIEW  Old War Wounds (ALIDA BECKER, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Waverly Place by Susan Brownmiller (Pat Barker, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Dan McCall's 'Triphammer' (Pat Barker, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of RED BAKER By Robert Ward (Pat Barker, NY Times Book Review)
    -ARTICLE: The Super Bowl of Fiction (EVA HOFFMAN LONDON, NY Times)
    -AWARD: Booker Prize for Fiction 1995   Winner Pat Barker The Ghost Road
    -REVIEW: Rosemary Dinnage: Death's Gray Land, NY Review of Books
        The Ghost Road by Pat Barker
        Regeneration by Pat Barker
        The Eye in the Door by Pat Barker
    -REVIEW: of Ghost Road (CLAUDIA ROTH PIERPONT, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Ghost Road (Salon)
    -ANNOTATED REVIEW: of Ghost Road (Annotated by  Coulehan, Jack, Medical Humanities)
    -REVIEWS: - The Ghost Road
    -ANNOTATED REVIEW: of Regeneration (Annotated by Duffin, Jacalyn, Medical Humanities)
    -FILM REVIEW: Poetry, soldiers and war  Regeneration, a film directed by Gillies Mackinnon  Based on the Regeneration trilogy by Pat Barker (Harvey Thompson, World Socialist Web Site)
    -REVIEW:  Gabriele Annan: Ghosts, NY Review of Books
        Another World by Pat Barker
    -REVIEW: of Another World by Pat Barker (NAN GOLDBERG, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of  Another World by Pat Barker  Pat Barker's latest novel looks at World War One from the home front (John Freeman, Boston Phoenix)

    -Counter Attack: Siegfried Loraine Sassoon.(1886-1967)
    -REVIEW: of SIEGFRIED SASSOON: THE MAKING OF A WAR POET: A BIOGRAPHY 1886-1918, by Jean Moorcroft Wilson Fightin' words: The Great War brought out the brilliance of Siegfried Sassoon's poetry (Graham Christian, Boston Phoenix)
    -REVIEW: Was the Great War Necessary?: The Pity of War, by Niall Ferguson (Benjamin Schwarz, The Atlantic)
    -REVIEW : of A War of Nerves: soldiers and psychiatrists 1914-1994 by Ben Shephard (David Herman, Independent uk)