I’m sure a lot of you by now know about my love for WWII novels. In case you didn’t, SURPRISE…I love WWII novels. I don’t tend to read historical novels not set around the 1920s-40s, but I’ve been meaning to. In particular, I wanted to read more about WWI since I did a post on it last year. I actually really struggled to find any, so if you happen to have any recommendations please let me know.
I did manage to find Regeneration. In fact, Pat Barker has been on my radar for a little while now. I found a copy of another one of her books—Toby’s Room in Waterstones once, but ended up not buying it. I’d heard a few people talk about the Regeneration trilogy before, so I’d been on the lookout for that one instead. I didn’t manage to find it in the UK, but there was a copy in the library, which made me super happy.
Like I mentioned, I don’t have a lot of experience with WWI books, but I felt like this followed a bit of a pattern. English soldiers come back from the Front, shell-shocked. I’m not criticising that—I really respect the boys who fought, and I completely understand shell-shock. I was just hoping for a little more out of this. I think when this was published in 1991 that it was probably quite unique, but I think mental illness is better discussed these days that this didn’t really have anything new to say.
I wanted to know more about the characters. I wanted to understand why they were shell-shocked and what was going on in their heads. Instead, we mostly got the perspective of the psychologist. I love psychology, but he was just a really uninteresting character in my opinion. I wanted more Sassoon, Owen and Prior rather than Rivers. They were all so much more interesting to me, especially since I really enjoy the poetry of both Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen.
This is an anti-war book, and yet I feel like that could have been presented better. We see very little of the horrors of war, and I think it could have been a lot more poignant and powerful had we seen more. I know enough about the war to be able to imagine what the characters would have gone through, but I would have felt more connected to them and the story as a whole if we’d been given a little more backstory of them.
I think this would be a great place to start for someone who’s looking at reading WWI and WWII novels. It sets up the kind of theme found in war fiction well, even if I don’t personally believe it’s the best one out there.