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Regeneration, The Eye in the Door, and Ghost Road, Pat Barker (1991, 1993, 1995)

A very stolid, very British trilogy set during WWI, concerned less with the fighting itself than with its cultural, social, and psychological ramifications. I enjoyed reading this, but looking back it seems to me more like a particularly informative and well-designed museum exhibit than a work of art. I learned a lot and enjoyed myself, but I wasn’t changed. I feel misanthropic saying that, because it’s really very well done, but there it is.

One more grouchy but true comment. The jacket copy goes on about how these are antiwar novels. This is not true. The books feature many antiwar characters, both historical and fictitious, but the spirit of the enterprise is clearly one which values most stiff upper lips, heroism, willingness to kill, allegiance to comrades and country, and all that.

Actually, when I really get thinking about it, these books are kind of rotten. Barker presents us with a large group of vivid and sympathetic characters, all of whom are opposed to the war in one way or another, and all of whom are marked by self-doubt, moral failings, and various other weaknesses. By the end, though, all the books’ heroes have sucked it up and gotten on with being soldiers, and it’s pretty clear we’re supposed to be proud of them.

I might feel differently again tomorrow, but just now I’m kind of thinking these are really kind of pernicious!

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