- Coulehan, Jack
- Date of entry: Jul-05-1999
This is the third novel in Pat Barker's trilogy about a group of shell shocked soldiers in World War I who are treated by Dr. William Rivers at Craiglockhart War Hospital. The protagonists include historical characters like Dr. Rivers (1864-1922), an eminent psychiatrist and anthropologist, and the poets, Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967) and Wilfred Owen (1893-1918), as well as fictional creations, like Lieutenant Billy Prior, a working class man elevated to the position of British officer.
As The Ghost Road begins, Prior has been cured of shell shock and is preparing to return to the front in France. Rivers takes care of his patients and his invalid sister, amid memories of his experience ten years earlier on an anthropological expedition to Melanesia (Eddystone Island). He befriended Nijiru, the local priest-healer who took Rivers on his rounds to see sick villagers and also to the island's sacred Place of the Skulls.
Rivers entertains very un-British thoughts about the morality of these headhunting people, and about the power of symbolic healing. As these thoughts intrude upon his consciousness, Rivers is himself in the process of curing by suggestion a soldier with hysterical paralysis. Meanwhile, Billy Prior returns to the front. It is the autumn of 1918 and the last inhuman spasms of the war are in progress. In a futile battle that takes place a few days before the Armistice, Billy and his friend Wilfred Owen are killed.