Regeneration by Pat Barker (1991) 252 p.
I have a goal of reading every Booker and Pulitzer winner, which requires more reading than you’d think, because some of them are part of a larger series and I don’t like to read things in isolation. 1995’s winner, The Ghost Road, is the final part of a trilogy which begins with Regeneration.
Regeneration takes place during World War I, largely revolving around British psychiatrist W.H.R. Rivers and the various shell-shocked soldiers under his care at Craiglockhart, a military hospital in Scotland. World War I was the first major war in which many soldiers experienced post-traumatic stress disorder – or, perhaps, the first major war in which the authorities took notice of it. Most of the patients are at Craiglockhart to be treated for shellshock or some variation of it; one of the central characters, poet Siegried Sassoon, is there because he wrote an open letter denouncing the war and one of his well-placed friends managed to have the military consider that a symptom of trauma, rather than treason deserving a court-martial. I was a fair way into the novel before finding out that many of the characters were in fact real people, including Rivers and Sassoon; other real life figures making an appearance include Robert Graves and Wilfred Owen.
Regeneration was apparently widely acclaimed, although I don’t see why. It’s by no means a bad novel – it’s well-written, and it tackles serious themes such as pacifism, masculinity and psychology. But there was no particular element in it which made me think it was something really, truly special, and I doubt it’s a book I’ll remember much of down the line. I wouldn’t read the next two books if I didn’t want to tick off all the Booker winners.