by Pat Barker

Paperback, 1993

Call number




Plume (1993), Edition: Reprint, 251 pages


Craiglockhart War Hospital, 1917, where army psychiatrist William Rivers is treating shell-shocked soldiers. Under his care are the poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, as well as mute Billy Prior, who is only able to communicate by means of pencil and paper. Rivers' job is to make the men in his charge healthy enough to fight. Yet the closer he gets to mending his patients' minds, the harder becomes every decision to send them back to the horrors of the front... REGENERATION is the classic exploration of how the traumas of war brutalized a generation of young men.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Smiler69
It is 1917 and WWI is still going strong. The Craiglockhart War Hospital is an institution where officers suffering from very serious cases of shell shock and deemed mentally unsound go to be healed so they can return to the front and continue the vicious battle against the Germans. Dr. William
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Rivers—a brilliant psychiatrist at the institution—has a cure which is at once successful while being highly unusual for his time. Instead of having recourse to violent and painful courses of therapy prevalent in other hospitals, such as submitting the patients to painful humiliation tactics and high voltage electric shocks, he helps his patients cure themselves by encouraging them to face their fears and the horrors they have witnessed in battle instead of attempting to repress them. Even with the advances in psychology brought on by Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, such an approach would have still been especially novel in the mainstream, at a time when men were conditioned and expected to be impervious to fear, never acknowledge weaknesses, and generally keep their emotions in check.

Dr. Rivers doesn't question the inherent contradiction in the fact that he is expected to bring these men back to a balanced mental state so that they can in turn continue fighting in suicidal missions in a war with countless casualties. But things start changing for him when he comes in contact with Siegfried Sassoon, a decorated war hero who has decided to take a stand by writing a declaration which condemns the continuation of what he is convinced is a war of aggression and meaningless slaughter. Sassoon's hopes of being court-marshalled for his insubordination and thus creating noise and a public outcry around his cause are dashed when he is instead declared mentally unstable—precisely to avoid attracting attention to the issue—and sent to Craiglockhart and Dr. Rivers to be 'cured'. Our good psychiatrist quickly appraises that Sassoon's actions stem from true conviction, and that the best he can do in his case is to help his patient come to accept that he has no other choice than to return to the front, since any further efforts on Sassoon's part to continue campaigning against the war will simply be interpreted as the actions of a man who is mentally unsound.

From the beginning, Siegfried Sassoon, a man of great culture and a published poet, makes no bones about his sexual orientation. He makes mention of an indirect connections to Oscar Wilde and his veneration for Edward Carpenter, a socialist poet, pacifist, and gay activist who's book [7093810::The Intermediate Sex] has been a great influence in helping him find his true identity. There is a running theme in the novel, which is the question of what constitutes 'real' and 'acceptable' manifestations of manhood in a time of war. The question of sexual orientation is intrinsically linked to those concerns, as is best expressed in the following excerpt, taken from a conversation between Rivers and Sassoon, who are discussing the prevailing attitudes toward homosexuality:

Sassoon: 'I thought things were getting better.'
Rivers: 'I think they were. Before the war.
Slightly. But it's not very likely, is it, that any movement towards greater tolerance would persist in wartime? After all, in war, you've got this enormous emphasis on love between men—comradeship—and everybody approves. But at the same time there's always this little niggle of anxiety. Is it the right kind of love? Well, one of the ways you make sure it's the right kind is to make it crystal clear what the penalties for the other kind are.'

This is a powerful novel and many of the themes at it's core, such as the manifestations of the instinct for self-preservation and what constitutes sanity and mental instability are weighty stuff, and the brilliance of Pat Barker's approach is that she manages to present her subject with a light and even humorous touch, with brilliant dialogue that is absolutely true to life. Her observation of her cast of characters and their complex motivations fully brings out their multi-dimensionality and each of them is a fascinating study of the workings of the human mind.

Craiglockhart, Sassoon, Rivers and other persons, places and events are taken from real life, and the way Barker has woven fact and fiction is masterful: entirely believable and wonderfully entertaining. This book came highly recommended from various sources and I must say I was highly impressed. I'm much looking forward to reading the other two books in the Regeneration trilogy during the course of the year. Wholeheartedly recommended.
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LibraryThing member labfs39
Normally a cure implies that the patient will no longer engage in behaviour that is clearly self-destructive. But in present circumstances, recovery meant the resumption of activities that were not merely self-destructive but positively suicidal.

Such are the conclusions of Dr. Rivers, a
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psychiatrist working with shell-shocked soldiers in 1917 England. His most recent patient is Siegfried Sassoon, a poet and decorated soldier, who has written a declaration calling the war a senseless slaughter without a clear objective. This is enough to land Sassoon in Craiglockhart War Hospital as a patient until he can be cured and returned to the front. Dr. Rivers is treating many patients: a man so traumatized by a gruesome accident that he will never recover, a doctor now unable to stand the sight of blood, a young man unable to remember what happened that caused his breakdown. But there is something about Sassoon and his articulate condemnation of the war that causes a crisis of conscience for Dr. Rivers.

Bits. The scold's bridle used to silence recalcitrant women in the Middle Ages. More recently, on American slaves. And yet on the ward, listening to the list of Callan's battles, he'd felt that nothing Callan could say could have been more powerful than his silence. Later, {after treatment by Dr. Yealland forces Callan to begin speaking again}, Rivers had felt that he was witnessing the silencing of a human being. Indeed, Yealland had come very close to saying just that. 'You must speak, but I shall not listen to anything you have to say.'

...Just as Yealland silenced the unconscious protest of
his patients by removing the paralysis, the deafness, the blindness, the muteness that stood between them and the war, so, in an infinitely more gentle way, he silenced his patients; for the stammerings, the nightmares, the tremors, the memory lapses, of officers were just as much unwitting protest as the grosser maladies of the men.

This novel fascinated me on so many levels. There is the philosophical, but very real arguments about the morality of the war; the psychiatric effects of war trauma on soldiers; the medical ethics of experimenting on oneself or using brutal methods; the use of mythology in the treatment of trauma; and the social effects as homosexuality begins to be acknowledged in British society.

He distrusted the implication that nurturing, even when done by a man, remains female, as if the ability were in some way borrowed, or even stolen, from women-a sort of moral equivalent of couvade. If that were true, then there was really very little hope.

...Rivers had been touched by the way in which young men, some of them not yet twenty, spoke about feeling like fathers to their men. Though when you looked at what they
did. Worrying about socks, boots, blisters, food, hot drinks. And that perpetually harried expression of theirs... It was the look of people who are totally responsible for lives they have no power to save.

But what really struck me about this novel is that it is based on actual people, declarations, and treatments. In a brief Author's Note at the end of the book, which I found helpful to read first, the reader is told which characters were real people and cites the sources for the various methods of treatment which Drs. Rivers and Yealland used. On the spectrum between fact and fiction, the author skews to the actual, and I was amazed at how deftly she brought the historical to life. [Regeneration] is the first in a trilogy that I look forward to continuing. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the psychology of war.
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LibraryThing member cameling
The first in a trilogy about British soldiers in WW1, this book highlights a few officers, including known poet, Siegfried Sassoon , suffering from PTSD and residents at the Craiglockhart War Hospital, an institution where they're receiving treatment and rest. The main objective of the medical
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team, which includes Dr William Rivers, an anthropologist, is to try to treat them to the point where they are 'cured' and can be returned to front to help fight the war.

It's an incredibly sensitive study of soldiers who have been in the midst of horrific conditions, seeing their friends cut down in front of them, having go crawl through dismembered bodies, one soldier even being hurled in the air after an explosion, only to land head first into the decomposing body of a German soldier, or forcing themselves out of the trenches, knowing they'll be walking into enemy fire.

The relationship Rivers builds with some of the patients and his method of treatment highlights the fact that PTSD, not a term used or even understood back then, is not a form of weakness or madness and should not be stigmatized, as it was in those days, and still is to a certain extent today.

The author puts a very human face to each of his characters, and raises the ethical and philosophical questions about war, making this not just historical fiction but also a very thought provoking read. The declaration by Sassoon is quoted in the beginning and is the foundation upon which the psychological and fatal effects of war may be argued.

All in all, a thoroughly good read.
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LibraryThing member DeltaQueen50
Regeneration by Pat Barker is a wonderful example of both a work of historical fiction and an anti-war piece. It is the first book in the Regeneration trilogy about the First World War. I found this understated simple story very moving as it explored the minds of men that were caught up in the
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maelstrom that was to practically wipe out a generation. My grandfather ran away from home to enlist and faced these very horrors at the very young age of seventeen, and lived with these memories the rest of his life. All wars are terrible but there seems to be such a loss of innocence that is connected to this war. It became a new style of warfare run by a series of incompetent generals and politicians and the lives that were sacrificed was overwhelming.

The author centers her story at Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh where British army officers are sent to recover from “shell shock”. Her characters are a mixture of real people such as poet Siegfried Sassoon and psychologist W.H.R. Rivers along with fictional characters. Extensive research paired with beautiful writing has produced a story that highlights the effect WW I was having and would have in the future. The day to day procedures at this hospital as Dr. Rivers works with his patients highlights the horrors that these men faced and the consequences that they now had to deal with from mutism, hallucinations, stuttering, etc.

Not a long book at only 250 pages, this is a very powerful story that invokes intense feelings in the reader. Regeneration was a moving, intelligent, thought-provoking and very rewarding book that I highly recommend.
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LibraryThing member lauralkeet
They'd been trained to identify emotional repression as the essence of manliness. Men who broke down, or cried, or admitted to feeling fear, were sissies, weaklings, failures. Not men. (p. 48)

In Regeneration, soldier and poet Siegfried Sassoon is undergoing treatment at Craiglockhart, a military
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hospital in Scotland. Sassoon took a public stance against the war by writing A Soldier's Declaration, and was deemed unfit for service. Instead of court-martial, he was sent to Craiglockhart to be treated for shell-shock. He developed a strong bond with his psychiatrist, Rivers. He also befriended another war poet, Wilfred Owen.

While Sassoon and Rivers are the central characters of this novel, their story is simply a device to convey a more important message about the horrific impact of war on those who spent time at the front:
One of the paradoxes of the war -- one of the many -- was that this most brutal of conflicts should set up a relationship between officers and men that was ... domestic. Caring. And the Great Adventure -- the real life equivalent of all the adventure stories they'd devoured as boys -- consisted of crouching in a dugout, waiting to be killed. The war had promised so much in the way of 'manly' activity had actually delivered 'feminine' passivity, and on a scale that their mothers and sisters had scarcely known. No wonder they broke down. (p. 107)

World War I resulted in 16 million deaths (nearly 10 million were military). The war also had far-reaching impact through physical and psychological trauma. Another Craiglockhart patient, Billy Prior, came to the hospital unable to speak after an incident at the front. Others experienced terrible nightmares; many stammered. While Regeneration is mostly about the soldiers, there is a side story about a group of young women working in a munitions factory. One of them accompanies a friend to visit her fiancé in hospital, and comes across a group of severely injured men hidden away from the public eye:
She backed out, walking away in the sunlight, feeling their eyes on her, thinking that perhaps if she'd been prepared, if she'd managed to smile, to look normal, it might have been better. But no, she thought, there was nothing she could have done that would have made it better. Simply by being there, by being that inconsequential, infinitely powerful creature: a pretty girl, she had made everything worse. (p. 160)

As a civilian, she was shocked by their condition, and also keenly aware that these men would never again experience full physical and emotional relationships with women.

Every page of this book was a sobering reminder of the horrors of war. This is the first of a trilogy; the next book (The Eye in the Door) focuses on the character of Billy Prior. I'm looking forward to reading rest of the trilogy in the coming months.
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LibraryThing member mrstreme
One of my favorite eras of poetry is the War Poets - a group of British soldiers who served during World War I and used their poetry to express their disillusionment with the war. After learning that Regeneration, the first in a trilogy by Pat Barker, features two war poets, Siegfried Sassoon and
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target="_top">Wilfred Owen, I couldn't wait to read it.

Regeneration focuses primarily on Sassoon and his stay at Craiglockhart, a hospital for World War I soldiers who were experiencing post-traumatic stress syndrome. Sassoon was sent to Craiglockhart after writing his famous Finished With The War: A Soldier's Declaration - an open letter of protest, which alluded that the British government was prolonging England's involvement in World War I (and at the expense of young British men). At Craiglockhart, we meet an interesting cast of characters, including Sassoon's physician, W.H.R. Rivers, Owens and many soldiers who were traumatized by their time in the trenches.

Barker does a spectacular job depicting the stress of the soldiers at Craiglockhart. Many had nightmares, screaming fits and panic attacks, while others experienced physical symptoms such as mutism and paralysis. Sherman once said that "war is hell" - and there's no mistaking its terrible effects on the men staying at this hospital.

Though written about a war almost 100 years ago, the messages about war's atrocities bears much relevance to today. Regeneration is a cerebral book, delivering its readers to much introspection about the characters and their circumstances. I look forward to reading the other books in this trilogy.
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LibraryThing member writestuff
Regeneration is the first book in Pat Barker’s World War I trilogy. Siegfried Sasson was an historical figure, a noted poet and decorated war hero who penned the Soldier’s Declaration - a refusal to continue serving as a British officer based on the moral grounds that the war was a misguided
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effort contributing to the senseless slaughter of men. Spared a court martial, Sassoon was sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital in Scotland where the famous psychiatrist Dr. William Rivers was assigned the task of “curing” him from insanity in order to send him back to France and the front line.

The novel, however, is less about Sassoon and more about the psychological effects of war. Barker shows us the shell-shocked and mentally damaged patients through the eyes (mostly) of Dr. Rivers. Billy Prior arrives at the hospital unable to speak. A young soldier by the name of Burns is so traumatized by his experiences he is unable to eat without vomiting. The reader meets yet another soldier who is “paralyzed” even though his spinal cord is physically undamaged. In sensitively revealing the psychic injuries of the characters, Barker asks the essential question: Is war worth the toll it takes on those who sacrifice for it? Even Rivers, who is tasked with restoring men to duty, begins to question the morality of war.

Pat Barker’s strength is in revealing the emotions of her characters without being maudlin. Often she employs dialogue between doctor and patient to reveal the the horror of war and its impact.

Regeneration is a war novel which is set not on the battlefield, but inside the minds of its characters - many of whom are historical figures. I found it to be a slow start - it is a drama that slowly reels the reader into the story. Regeneration is written with compassion and a subtle tension which reveals a sometimes barbaric and disturbing period in the history of psychiatry. Barker writes with honesty and has created a novel which pricks at the conscience.

Regeneration was long-listed for the Booker Prize in 1991.

Recommended for those readers interested in historical fiction, particularly during World War I. Those interested in psychology will also find this novel a fascinating character study.
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LibraryThing member stephmo
Pat Barker's Regeneration manages to infuse enough beauty into the brutality of this novel about the horrors of war that it becomes easy to remember how simple it is for everyone to pretend that war is a great and noble thing made up of the bravest and the strongest of heroes. What Regeneration
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does is whisper about those men who are mere mortals - those that experience the horrors of war and break down...or worse, make a logical argument not against war as a concept, but questioning whether or not the purpose of a particular war has passed.

The story draws from the real-life case of Siegfried Sassoon, an English Poet, who famously wrote Finished with the War: A Soldier's Declaration. He was not a pacifist, not suffering from a mental illness and not looking to fake either; Sassoon had simply protested what he felt had become an unjust war. Who better to know than those serving on the front? For his reward, he was sent to a mental health facility as a favor instead of having to serve his time in prison for treason.

And this is the novel. The attempted Regeneration of men for war. In these pages, there are the wide and varied stories of the horrors of war, the minor unpleasantness and a decided lack of esprit des corps. It's not that the men don't get along, it's that the men cannot support one another and get better at the same time. And this is the brilliance of Barker's prose - the horrific stories that can barely be told because telling them destroys men who are trying to stay whole. And it is this balancing act of destroying to make whole again that makes this story so compelling.
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LibraryThing member tloeffler
In 1917, poet Siegfried Sassoon was sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital after a public protest about the war. While there, he was treated by Dr. W. H. R. Rivers, a neurologist and social anthropologist, and he formed a friendship with another WWI poet, Wilfred Owen. These facts are the basis of this
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fictionalized account of that encounter, the first in a trilogy of books.

It was difficult to remind myself that this was mostly fiction. The story was well-written, and if the events did not happen this way, they could have. Here was a different perspective on how the war affected those who fought in it. I'm not sure we realize sometimes how very brutal WWI was, but a lot of it comes through in this book. It's not an exciting book, nor an eventful book, but it is very powerful in a low-key sort of way.
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LibraryThing member cataryna
I have mixed feelings about this novel. I enjoyed each individuals story, but as a whole was rather disappointed. The main character "Rivers", the eminent psychiatrist, seemed to me to be the one with the most mental baggage which I felt never truly got explained other than the brief flashback to
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his childhood. I most sympathized with Sassoon and his struggle over pacifism and duty. The novel as a whole failed to grab my full attention and toward the end of it couldn't wait to be done. I am debating whether I want to read the rest of the series, if only in the hopes that they would explain Rivers personality more and to find out whether Sassoon gets what he wants by returning to the front.
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LibraryThing member CBJames
Regeneration by Pat Barker combines the stories of real and fictional people to create a compelling account of life in a psychiatric hospital for British soldiers during the first world war. Barker uses the true stories of poets Siegfried Sassoon and Owen Wilson, who met and worked together during
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their stay at Craiglockhart Hospital, Dr. William Rivers their psychiatrist and the fictional Billy Prior. The three soldiers, along with the other patients in the hospital, are all officers who have all suffered nervous breakdowns to varying degrees. It is Dr. Rivers's job to cure them and return the to service, either back to the front in France or to some other work.

The novel is a true ensemble of characters; each takes a significant turn at center stage and each is fascinating in his own way. While there is no single narrative thread to the novel, the psychological profiles of the four main characters that emerge and their struggles to regain a sense of normalcy, to recover from their experience enough to return to it, make for compelling reading. Whether Sassoon has suffered a breakdown is not clear. He is placed in the hospital to save the army from embarrassment. A true war hero, decorated for bravery after saving the lives of many wounded men, he joins with several prominent pacifists and publishes a declaration against the war. Friends of his convince the army that he has had a breakdown and should be treated instead of court martialled. (This will save the army a good deal of embarrassement as well. ) Dr. Rivers treats him, as he does Owen and Prior, through basic Freudian techniques, the talking cure. Nightmares are problems for all of the soldiers in the hospital, so there is plenty of dream analysis in the book, all of it interesting reading.

Many of the officers in Craiglockhart want to be cured so they can go back to the battle, because they want to return to their men whom they feel guilty about leaving and because they have difficulty dealing with civilians who do not understand their experience. Billy Prior meets a local girl during the times he is allowed to leave the hospital and a romance develops. She knows that he is a patient, that he has had some sort of breakdown, but he does not tell her the details. He keeps her innocent of his experience so that her innocence can be his place of refuge. He loves her because she is not a part of the war; but this fact also separates them, prevents him from opening up to her in a way that would make a deeper bond possible.

Dr. Rivers becomes friends with many of his patients and often visits them after they leave the hospital. He is older than his many of his patients, actually old enough to be their fathers which makes it even easier for the doctor-patient relationship to become father-patient. His techniques and his manner with his patients work so well and are so admirable that I began to reconsider my own general skepticism about psychiatry. The men in Craiglockhart are so well looked after that it becomes tempting to read Regeneration as a commentary on how mental illness is viewed in the military today. Sassoon can have a 'breakdown' and return to battle as an officer in charge with no apparent loss of face while in the U.S. today we regularly hear stories about soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan who won't seek counseling for fear of repercussions from their superior officers that might end their careers. (How does this attitude contribute to the high suicide rate amoung U.S. soldiers today seems like a questions we're not really allowed to ask if we want to "support the troops.") But towards the end of Regeneration Dr. Rivers goes to a psychiatric hospital in London where he witnesses a different sort of treatment. The Doctor there treats his patients through prolonged sessions of electric shock. A patient who is mute has shock treatments applied to his throat, neck and mouth, until he is forced to speak again. The patient is speaking by the end of the near day-long session, but Dr. Rivers is horrified by the force that has been used as is the reader. The best treatment, that of Dr. Rivers, is reserved for the officer class while the other soldiers are subjected to treatments that would be classified as torture today.

The story continues in The Eye in the Door, and The Ghost Road which I'll be getting to shortly. I found Regeneration an enjoyable read the same way I found Olivia Manning's Balkan Trilogy enjoyable. In each series the reader is not rushed down a plot driven road towards a climax. Instead, we get to spend time with a set of characters who make up an enjoyable circle of friends. I'm giving Regeneration by Pat Barker five out of five stars. I'd have consider it a major contender for my top five books of the year.
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LibraryThing member Cariola
A beautifully written novel, the first in Barker's "Regeneration Trilogy" (the third volume won the Booker Prize). Set in a war hospital in Engliand during World War I, the story revolves around several patients and physicians, including the poet Siegfried Sassoon. After serving honorably, Sassoon
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wrote an anti-war statement, which he asked an MP to read in session. His friend and fellow officer Robert Graves, knowing that Sassoon would be facing a court martial, claims the statement was due to battle fatigue and has him sent to Craiglockhaven for treatment. Dr. Rivers's task is to get Sassoon to agree to return to the front. A fascinating look at the social pressure put on young men during the war, as well as the effects of the war and of the treatment of the psychological scars it caused.

I listened to this one on audio, read wonderfully by Peter Firth, and I will be moving on to the next two volumes, [The Eye in the Door] and [The Ghost Road].
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LibraryThing member LovingLit
This little book has been a long time waiting for me. I am so glad I have finally read it! It follows the story of Sigfried Sassoon who was admitted to a WWI mental hospital for examination, and for his anti-war feelings to be eliminated/mended/erased so that he could be sent back to the front and
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continue doing his duty. The medical officer in charge of this feat is William Rivers. He is a middle aged man schooled in the ways of the mind, he is a kind man and a skilled manipulator of others, in a way that helps them see that their afflictions (shell-shock, anxiety and the like) can be overcome that they can carry on.

The book is so much more than its plot though. It is about war and politics, it is about mental health and the effects of what continued anxiety can do to the mind and body, and it is about right and wrong. It is beautifully written, and coupled with a great story is everything I like about books.
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LibraryThing member ParadisePorch
(Fiction, Historical, WWI)

I eagerly anticipated Pat Barker’s WWI trilogy that starts with this novel, a Booker Prize nominee. But I wasn’t aware that Regeneration is based on real-life decorated British officer, poet, and pacifist Siegfried Sassoon.

It turns out that I’m not that interested
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in Sassoon and would rather have had a good plot than good history. Regeneration is good writing, but I was much more moved by fictional pacifist Robert Ross in Timothy Findley’s The Wars.

Read this if: you’re interested in finding out about Sassoon and the numerous soldiers, both officers and enlisted men, who questioned the morality of the Great War as it was being fought. 4 stars
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LibraryThing member lycomayflower
The novel follows Siegfried Sassoon during his stay in Craiglockhart War Hospital after an ill-timed war protest labelled him "shell-shocked." A number of the other characters (his doctor, Rivers, and fellow patient Wilfred Owen, among others) are based on real people as well. We see a number of
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the patients, all suffering from some manner of neurasthenia, and get their stories, as well as Rivers's, from their own points of view. The shifting points of view coupled with a spare style when it comes to setting make the story feel a bit fragmented (though never difficult to follow), and this seems utterly appropriate for a novel about this subject. The exploration of the psychiatric and ethical issues facing the soldiers and their doctors is compelling and the descriptions of the conditions in the trenches harrowing. An excellent read. Recommended.
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LibraryThing member Lukerik
An oddly subdued and emotionally controlled book. Highly readable, and strangely interesting even from the start when the whole thing seems to be a sequence of interview texts. The torture scene later on was particularly well done; I had to stop reading afterwards to think about it. I think my
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enjoyment would have been enhanced if I knew the details of the events from history in more detail and as this is just part of a trilogy I suppose I've essentially just read a third of a novel. If I have a criticism (and I feel I have to offer one) it's that it occasionally falls back on the trappings of women's fiction.
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LibraryThing member redcedar
an unlikely read for me (i don't tend towards books about world war 1), regeneration turned out to be a heartbreaking and struggling story about the lives of soldiers during this most horrible of wars. focussed on the lives of war poets siegfried sassoon and wilfred owen, pat barker fictionalizes
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the lives of these very real men during their time in one of the military psychiatric hospitals. the war stories and their resulting psychoses are rending portrayals of what life was like during the heyday of trench warfare - and how a generation of men were destroyed by the aspirations of their nations' leaders. a great and moving read.
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LibraryThing member auntieknickers
After reading All Quiet on the Western Front, I realized that several more of the novels from the Guardian's 1000 Novels list dealt with World War I in some way, and thought it would be good to read some more of them. I picked up the first and last of this trilogy at a local used book sale and they
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seemed like a good bet, even though I'd tried another of Barker's books years ago and didn't get very far.
Unlike Remarque 's book, Barker's trilogy are historical novels informed more by research and imagination than personal experience. Not only that, she has bravely made several historical figures into central characters in her books: the poets Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves, and Wilfred Owen, and William Rivers who is probably only known to you if you are involved in the treatment of what we now call PTSD and was then called shell-shock. In this first volume Rivers is treating Sassoon, Owen, and a fictional officer, Billy Prior at Craiglockhart, a military hospital near Edinburgh. Sassoon, a decorated and brave officer, has published a manifesto against the conduct of the war and is in the hospital more or less as an excuse. Rivers' job is to get him to go back to the front. As one might expect he feels conflicted about this. Prior, who comes from a working-class background but was made an officer because of his intelligence and educational attainment, feels conflict too and also becomes involved with a young woman who works in the local munitions factory. Except for some of the reminiscences of the patients we never see the war in France, only its various effects on the people at home and those who come back from the Front. The feelings of Prior and others in the book are very similar to those Remarque's protagonist has when he goes home on leave. Regeneration also has a lot to say about class, about the relationship between a psychotherapist and his patients, and even about the process of making poetry from wartime experiences. Highly recommended, but be warned, you'll want to read all three volumes.
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LibraryThing member jayne_charles
I can't overstate how tedious and oblique this book was. I saw on the front 'Booker Prize Winner', and as I have generally rated these books quite highly I bought it. Unfortunately it was only the author who won the prize - not this particular book. I can only assume the book that did win was a
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whole lot better than this one.

Obviously, given the subject matter, and the fact that it 'resurrects heroes' (to quote the blurb on the back), it's going to attract a certain amount of learned attention, as well as sentimental adulation. It wasn't entertaining, though. If I wanted to read about World War I poets I would prefer to read a reference book.
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LibraryThing member isabelx
Light from the window behind Rivers' desk fell directly on to Sassoon's face. Pale skin, purple shadows under the eyes. Apart from that, not obvious signs of nervous disorder. No twitches, jerks, blinks, no repeated ducking to avoid a long-exploded shell. His hands, doing complicated things with
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cup, saucer, plate, sandwiches, cake, sugar tongs and spoon, were perfectly steady. Rivers raised his own cup to his lips and smiled. One of the nice things about serving afternoon tea to newly arrived patients was that it made so many neurological tests redundant.

The story starts with the poet Siegfried Sassoon arriving at Craiglockhart, an institution for shell-shocked officers, after publishing his famous declaration against the war. But the main character is Dr. W.H.R. Rivers, the (real-life) doctor who treats him and other officers, until they are better enough to either return to the front or be released from the army and return to civilian life. Possibly Rivers' hardest case is an officer who is wasting away, unable to eat without vomiting after landing head first onto a corpse whose gas-filled belly had burst on impact, filling his mouth and nose with rotting flesh.

Sometimes when you're alone, in the trenches, I mean, at night you get the sense of something ancient. As if the trenches have always been there. You know one trench we held, it had skulls in the side. You looked back along and . . . Like mushrooms. And do you know, it was actually easier to believe they were men from Marlborough's army than to to to think they'd been alive two years ago. It's as if all other wars had somehow . . . distilled themselves into this war, and that makes it something you . . . almost can't challenge.

A fantastic book - very moving.
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LibraryThing member marilib
about the First World War: Regeneration trilogy, a fictionalised account of the wartime experiences of the poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, the psychiatrist W. H. R. Rivers, and the fictional protagonist, Lt. Billy Prior.
LibraryThing member vibrantminds
In the midst of WWI a combat officer, Siegfried Sassoon, denounces the war and finds himself in a psychiatric hospital under the care of Dr. William Rivers, psychiatrist. The relationship between the two is quite intriguing, both no longer agree with the war but must come to terms with it. Rivers
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in that he must either find his patients fit or unfit to return to duty and Sassoon in his attitude to succumb to his responsibilities and return to the fighting. Several other patients are explored as well and the nightmare unfolds as to what war can do to an individual. A very moving book that puts the effects of war in perspective. (Book 1 of 3)
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LibraryThing member mbmackay
A classy novel about the horrors of World War I told with a focus on a group of literary/poetic officers as they and others are treated for shell shock. This oblique approach seems to capture the carnage and its effect on soldiers involved even more strongly than any attempt to directly describe
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the futility of the military tactics. Read March 2011.
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LibraryThing member PennyAnne
I have a long-held affection for the British WWI poets and that is what interested me in this book which takes real-life events and mixes them with fiction to tell a story about WWI and its terrible physical and psychological toll. A book which moves slowly but which draws the reader in. I was most
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taken by the way the author provided a window into the emotional toll of the war through her sparse descriptive style. A great book, number one in a trilogy - I must hunt out the other books in the series.
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LibraryThing member PIER50
Beautifully written and interesting book. However, I think it needs to be read as part of the trilogy (I haven't yet) to fully appreciate it. I found myself getting to the end and thinking 'OK, now what?' There are some disturbing idetails about the treatment used on some of the soldiers to "cure"
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them of various problems they aquired in the trenches, like losing their voice etc. The section on repeated electric shocks to do this certainly makes you think!
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