Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Regeneration by Pat Barker

Regeneration by Pat Barker
Copyright 1991
Penguin Books - Historical Fiction/WWI
252 pages

Regeneration is the first in a series of books by Pat Barker that are set during WWI. I don't know how the series continues, whether it follows the same characters or new ones, but Regeneration is set at a mental hospital for shell-shocked soldiers called Craiglockhart in Edinburgh, Scotland.

The year is 1917 and W. H. R. Rivers has a new patient set to arrive. The patient is Siegfried Sassoon. Although Sassoon has had nightmares and a few horrifying hallucinations in the past, he is being sent to the facility mostly to keep people from having to actually address the issue Sassoon has brought up. Having composed a letter saying he thinks England needs to get out of the war, that men are dying needlessly, there are a few people who want him silenced and the best way is to make him appear unstable. His best friend also wants to prevent a court martial and helps to get Sassoon sent to Craiglockhart.

Sassoon is perfectly sane, although he does eventually develop an interesting problem with ghosts. But, he's required to chat with Rivers and through the interaction between doctor and patient, as well as a few other key characters, you get to know the doctor and his humane treatment methods in a time when post-traumatic stress was not yet identified or named and certainly not understood.

There's a lot to Regeneration, in spite of its fairly short page count. Toward the end, Sassoon is due to go in front of the medical board. In those days, a "cured" patient was sent right back overseas to fight, again. Sassoon, in spite of being strongly against the war, desires to return to the front. Rivers, meanwhile, has determined that he (Rivers, himself) is due for a change and there is a short but wrenching section during which he goes to London to check out the hospital where he will be working. There, the contrast between humane and cruel treatment is clearly drawn during a horrifying scene describing the "treatment" of a mute soldier forced to speak after hours of torturous shocks with electrodes.

I didn't realize Rivers, Sassoon and many other characters were actual historical figures until I got to the end of Regeneration and read the author's notes. Then I dashed over to Wikipedia to read a bit more. The Wikipedia entry about the Regeneration series is fascinating. I only read about the first book; from there, I jumped to the entry about Rivers and then read about Sassoon. The third book in the series, The Ghost Road, won the Booker Prize in 1995.

The bottom line:

A fascinating, sometimes horrifying but very vivid and realistic look at treatment of post-traumatic stress and injuries during WWI, with telling descriptions of experiences by the soldiers in treatment. While the author occasionally lost me -- sometimes in dialogue, chiefly when describing things that might be common knowledge in the British Isles or for those who are knowledgeable about WWI, but certainly vague in my eyes -- I thought Regeneration was engrossing and quite a learning experience. I do plan to read on, although I own a copy of Regeneration but not the other two books and it may be some time before I get around to the following two. Recommended, with a warning that Regeneration can be a painful, jarring and even gruesome read at times because it is so realistic. An excellent fictionalized account of real-life characters.

Former blogger Kookie (aka "Michelle") didn't like Regeneration, but I neglected to ask her why. I did think the author's writing was sometimes a little nebulous where it could have easily been made clear, but other than that . . . I really thought it was so very engaging and the characters so well-developed that I can't pick on it too much. I liked the way the characters seemed to make so little sense, at times, in their thought processes. It occurred to me that humans really don't necessarily make sense. We're illogical. We say one thing and do another or change our minds abruptly. That was a part of where the realism came into play.

Cover thoughts:

That's not the cover of my book, but it's my favorite of the images I found on Google Images. Mine is ugly. But, there is something very special about my copy. It has a few pages with little mouse bites. You can actually see the tiny teeth marks! I'm probably the only person on the planet who thinks that's cool.

In other news:

I am having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad time getting around to blogging. I think it's probably a combination of heat and feeling a little overwhelmed with all that I have to accomplish in the coming months. So, while I keep thinking I want to clear out my sidebar by whipping out several reviews at once, it's not happening. If I continue to feel blah, I'll just take a couple weeks off. I don't have any scheduled reviews until June 30 so if I disappear for a couple weeks, you know when to return. I will have a post of Dug Down Deep by Joshua Harris posted on the 30th.

Photo of the day:

The cats aren't too energetic, either. Note the difference in size between my two girls. Isabel is now full-grown, so I guess she's just going to stay tiny and delicate. "Tiny" is, in fact, one of her nicknames. I've been calling her that since she arrived at our house. Last time she was at the vet, Izzy weighed a mere 5 pounds. I'd guess she's up to 6 pounds, by now. Fi, on the other hand, is a 13-pounder.

Facebook friends will have already heard this story, but I must share a little cat tale from this morning. I went out to pick up my new eyeglasses and when I returned, Isabel greeted me in the living room. I said hello and asked her, "Where's your sister?" Izzy looked at me, looked toward the kitchen and then went bounding off (bounce, bounce -- she really has the cutest way of running) to the breakfast nook, where she stopped directly below the chair in which Fiona was sleeping. She looked back at me and, of course, I exclaimed at her cleverness. And, then she jumped up into the chair next to Fi and ducked her head for a little grooming from sis.

That Isabel is one smart cookie! In fact, I've only had one cat I considered a little dim (Miss Spooky) but after her tremendously intelligent adoptive sister passed away, I discovered that I just wasn't paying attention. Spooky wasn't necessarily as sharp as Sunshine, but cats are pretty amazing creatures and they understand more than we often realize. Anyway, a little fun from the House of Bookfool.

Happy, happy day!

©2011 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.


  1. Anonymous6:36 PM

    Loved your kittie story, Nancy. I think cats are mega-intelligent. Our last one was a big pain, but she was ever so smart.

    I say, take the two weeks off. I've just completed a week away from things and I finished 3 books, really good for me. I've started volunteering again at my former workplace, the library. My branch is drowning in summer stuff and they are down several staff members. I went by and felt so sorry for them, I couldn't help saying, I'll come tomorrow to help. So, I'll be around less for a while. I was a bit bored here at home waiting for the new house anyway.

    Enjoy your summer. We are so hot, I truly can't believe it. Forecast is for above 100 all this week and it's just early June. I shudder to think what August will bring. :-(

  2. Anonymous6:43 PM

    I think mouse bites are cool...on a book. But then, I also thought the cover of Firmin was totally awesome.

  3. Kay,

    Thanks! I totally agree. I was really kind of horrified when I realized that I'd never paid enough attention to notice how sharp cats are till Sunshine. She was a puppy cat - totally devoted and terribly smart. I learned a lot from her.

    Okay, you've convinced me. Every now and then we all need a break from blogging, don't we? How sweet of you to help out at your library! And, it does sound like a nice way to fill time. 3 books a week is great. Good for you!

    I cannot even think about August. No way. It's way too early to be taking afternoon siestas but it's so hot I wither if I try to do anything, so I spend a couple hours reading in the afternoon. I usually start doing that in July.

    Thanks! I wish you a fabulous summer, too!


    It's the tiny teeth marks that are especially cool. I think they give the book a little added character. I had to look up Firmin. That is one scruffy-looking mouse! I like the cover, too.

  4. I love moments like that with cats. They are so smart and yet mine "acts" so unintelligent sometimes. BTW, at first glance that picture almost looked like they were jumping in the air. LOL! Silly me.

  5. Ok, I'm intrigued and nervous about this book at the same time!

  6. Jenny,

    That's what's so funny -- they can play dumb, but they really aren't. They can fake healing, too. I took our Miss Spooky to the vet, once, because she was limping. The vet put her on the floor and she casually strolled across the room without even the tiniest limp. He said, "She's faking it. Probably just wrenched her leg a little in a jump. Don't be surprised if she goes right back to limping when you get home." Sure enough, the limp returned at home. But, he'd checked her out and it wasn't anything serious.

    I can see why you'd mistake that for a jumping photo!


    Are you planning to read it? It can be pretty gruesome when you're reading about what sent a soldier over the edge (and there are several of them who graphically describe their ordeals) plus the scene with the poor soldier being tortured to get him to speak. Otherwise, though, it's not so bad.

  7. I have had this book on my shelf for a really long time, and have never gotten around to reading it. Your review on this one was fascinating, and brings up some questions I have been pondering regarding the treatment of soldiers with PTSD before it was actually a known disease. Lately I have been reading a lot about mental afflictions and their treatment in hospitals, so this one sounds like it would be an excellent and interesting read for me. Thanks for the wonderful review!

  8. When I first saw your cat picture I thought they were leaping in the air at each other. And I said to myself, "Wow! Nancy has great timing and photography skills!" And then I realized they are on the floor and I still think you have great timing and photography skills.

  9. I am interested in this book because I love Sassoon's poetry. One of my favorites is Repression of War Experience. My other favorite WWI poet is Wilfred Owen. Their descriptions of war are so intense and personal, so sad and horrifying.

  10. I, too, thought the kitties were jumping in the air toward each other! :)

    I say go for a bloggy break. I didn't intend to, but it's been a bit since I've posted on my blog. My posts are getting few and far between. A little voice keeps saying, "Give it up." Why is it so difficult to walk away from blogging??

    BTW, good for you and your workouts. I haven't managed to get back into an exercise routine. Working 7-3 is not conducive to my normal lifestyle of exercising and blogging. Bah!

  11. Zibilee,

    My copy has been on the shelf for at least a year or two. I came across it while cleaning out cabinets and moving books and it seemed to be calling to me. I'm glad I listened. It seems like a book you'd enjoy. I find medical history fascinating, too. It's subtle in that you see Rivers' technique in progress and it's not till the London scene that you really get a feel for how dramatically innovative and sane his methods were - very similar to what's still done, today, allowing people to talk through the horror.


    I wish! My cats do occasionally bump heads, but Fiona's not a big leaper. Isabel, however, is so light-boned that she often seems to be flying when we play with her bird on a stick. And, thank you. :)


    I had never heard of Sassoon. I'll click through on that link in a minute. The verses he wrote in the book (he worked with another man on poetry) were the genuine article and she even went so far as to fictionalize the creation of one poem based on the scratch marks and changes to the original. What little poetry you read in the book is definitely very personal.


    So funny. I guess because I know they were on the floor, I didn't see that at all till it was mentioned.

    It's hard to give up blogging because of the people connections. Although, let's face it, the most genuine friendships tend to have been carried off the board, at some point, and you can always make sure you keep in touch with those people. I'm definitely going to take a break - maybe not just from the blog, but from the internet in general (we'll see about that).

    Thanks. I'm enjoying my workouts and I can see a little progress but it's slooooow progress, kind of disappointing. I guess yesterday's headache was a migraine warning. I've still got it and so far none of my meds have worked. I did manage to at least squeeze in an hour on the treadmill before bed, though, so that's good.

  12. This was my first read of 1997, according to my book journal, but it didn't make much of an impression on me. I think I'd like it much better now, so I'm going to borrow it from one of my coworkers who just finished it. He's from the part of England where Sassoon threw his medal into the sea, so he said he's going looking for it this summer when he goes home. Yes, you're right about the tiny teeth marks. Shudder!

  13. Bybee,

    I'm guessing you have to be in the right mood for Regeneration to tolerate it. I like Pat Barker's writing, but sometimes she does lose me. How very cool about your coworker. So, you'll be borrowing the special English near-the-medal-tossing version. :)

    The good news about those teeth marks is that they were made elsewhere. My ugly old copy came from Paperback Swap. If the teethmarks were made within my walls, I'd probably be totally upset.

  14. Sounds like a good book. I read a few WWI novels this year for the Lit and War Read-a-Long, and I really want to read more about it. Such a fascinating period in history. I'll keep this one in mind.

  15. Anna,

    It's very good. I haven't read all that many WWI books, but I seem to be finding more in the last few years. WWII will always be my favorite war to read about, but I'm finding my interest in WWI is definitely growing. Hope you enjoy it if you do read Regeneration.


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