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.


To me The Ghost Road, which won the Booker Prize in 1995, is the most gripping and fastest-paced of Pat Barker's trilogy. The first two novels are Regeneration (1991) [see annotation in this database] and The Eye in the Door (1993). As W. H. R. Rivers reflects on the culture of death on Eddystone Island, World War I, a culmination of the culture of death in Europe, grinds to a close, taking with it the poet Wilfred Owen. Of course, the characters in The Ghost Road are unaware of the new heights (or depths) that the culture of death will attain later in the 20th Century.



Place Published

New York



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