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Ghost Road, The [Paperback]

Pat Barker
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Aug. 26 2008
1918, the closing months of the war. Army psychiatrist William Rivers is increasingly concerned for the men who have been in his care - particularly Billy Prior, who is about to return to combat in France with young poet Wilfred Owen. As Rivers tries to make sense of what, if anything, he has done to help these injured men, Prior and Owen await the final battles in a war that has decimated a generation...

The Ghost Road is the Booker Prize winning account of the devastating final months of the First World War.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

The Booker Prize recently awarded to Barker for this book, the culmination of her astonishing WWI trilogy that began with Regeneration and The Eye in the Door, persuaded Dutton to move publication ahead by eight months, which is good news for American readers. Though it would seem almost impossible to look at that appalling conflict with a fresh eye, Barker has succeeded in ways that define the novelist's art: by close observation as well as by deployment of a broad and painfully compassionate vision, all rendered in prose whose very simplicity speaks volumes. The present book can be read without reference to the others, but all are mutually enriching. They revolve around William Rivers, a psychologist who pioneered the treatment of shell shock, and some of his patients, who include such real-life figures as poets Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, as well as the fictional Lieutenant Billy Prior, a bisexual whose life as an officer is complicated by his working-class origins. The questions the trilogy addresses are profound ones like the nature of sanity, the politics of class, war and sex, and the struggle to maintain humanity in the face of meaningless slaughter. In The Ghost Road, the war is nearing its end, which renders the continuing horrors of trench warfare ever more futile. Prior is sent back to the front after Rivers's treatment, enjoys a strange idyllic interlude in a ruined village, rescues a horribly wounded fellow officer and then faces the stupidest massacre of all. Meanwhile Rivers takes on new nightmare cases?and begins to remember his anthropological researches in Melanesia years before, when he strove to understand the rituals of a people whose greatest pleasure, head-hunting, had been abolished by a British colonial administration. The contrast between the primitives' deeply considered approach to death and the pointless killing indulged in by supposedly more civilized people is only hinted at, but it gives the book, particularly in its deeply eloquent concluding pages, enormous resonance. The whole trilogy, which in its entirety is only equivalent in length to one blockbuster serial-killer frenzy, is a triumph of an imagination at once poetic and practical.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

The latest winner of Britain's prestigious Booker Prize, this final volume completes a trilogy that includes Regeneration (1992) and The Eye in the Door (1994). Displaying the remarkable virtuosity that has won her a good deal of praise, Barker further embellishes upon history, shepherding readers even more deeply into the psyches of her vividly rendered characters. Poet Wilfred Owen reappears, as does psychologist William Rivers and his invalid sister, Katherine, who as a child was befriended by Lewis Carroll. Here, Rivers becomes ill and is haunted by memories of the headhunters he lived with and studied in Melanesia. But it is Barker's riveting and complex portrait of Billy Prior that delivers the message of the pathos and horrors of war. When Prior returns to the trenches after recovering from shell shock, he describes in diary form the final battles of World War I. Restrained yet powerfully expressive, Barker writes at full tilt, with compelling humanity. Alice Joyce --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Most helpful customer reviews
By Donald Mitchell #1 HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Please do not read The Ghost Road before reading Regeneration and The Eye in the Door (the order intended by the author). As brilliant as The Ghost Road is, its message will hit you harder if you have read the other books first and anticipated what Pat Barker's final vision of humanity would be.

Without revealing any spoilers, The Ghost Road is the most nuanced novel about war that I've ever read. Most war-related books take one of two basic themes: Either war is too awful to be tolerated and needs to be abolished . . . or human nobility is expressed within war, but war itself is an evil event with people being destroyed by incompetent leaders. You'll find a different message here, one implied by a combination of observations about a tribe of head hunters and by the behavior of Billy Prior, one of the primary characters in the three books. I leave it to you to find out what this nuanced message is . . . but I believe it will probably surprise and enlighten you.

By narrowing down the focus onto just two of the continuing characters of the trilogy, Dr. William Rivers and Lieutenant Billy Prior, The Ghost Road has an intensity and power that I didn't observe in the prior two books. Clearly, The Ghost Road is a step above those excellent novels.

I am often left wondering why books that win prestigious prizes (like the 1995 Booker Prize . . . awarded to The Ghost Road) did so. I have no doubt that this award was well earned.

Life can be an ironic event, punctuated by moments of sublime joy. I have seldom read a novel that captured those perspectives as well as The Ghost Road does.

Brava, Ms. Barker!
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Regeneration Trilogy Dec 5 2002
Pat Barker's magnificent trilogy is not only a profound contribution to our literature on the First World War - it is also one of the most distinguished works of contemporary fiction in any genre. Barker doesn't skirt around the central issues with a po-faced patriotic reverence, but rather tackles them head on: the agonizing contradictions of patriotism and protest; the politics of social and self-surveillance; the homoerotic undertones of trench camaraderie, especially among the war poets; the horrendous physical and psychological costs of war; and the sense of personal duty which drives us, nonetheless, to fight. These are big themes, but Barker's talent is to handle them in a way which makes her novels feel like an easy read. They are accessible, engaging, seemingly simplistic in their style - but in the end profoundly moving in a way which only the highest literature aspires to be. The trick is that she makes her characters so real for us - Prior and Rivers, the consistent protagonists, are completely human. She makes us experience a world-historical incident on a very human scale. Harrowing, intelligent, moving and funny, Barker has crafted a fictional epic that will stay with you forever. Walking through Sydney's Central railway station months after finishing these books, I came across the honour boards listing the hundreds of railway men and women who died in the Great War. Barker's books made the war real for me, made these lives - these deaths - real. If they do nothing more than that for you, they've succeeded.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Betrayal on All Fronts Nov. 26 2002
By A Customer
First, a comment on the review from the "Top 50 Reviewer" from NH: I find his(her?) entire review willfully odd in many regards, not the least of which is the claim that to read the historian John Keegan is to discover that the war was well conducted.
But I digress... The point of the novel, indeed the trilogy, seems to me to be betrayal. Whatever else he is, Billy Prior seems to have been betrayed, to varying degress, by most of those whom he has encounterd: father, mother, priest, military superiors, Empire, and, most probably but at least humanely, Rivers himself. In the final tally, there seems to be little difference between governments prosecuting the war to its last gasp ("And then the next day in 'John Bull' there's Bottomley saying, No, no, no and once again no. We must fight to the bitter end.")---and the headhunting Melanesians. To the (possible) credit of the Melanesians, they at least understand that they are unreconstructed headhunters.
The manipulative, sexually voracious, and profoundly self-aware Billy Prior is an unforgettable fictional creation. (And, yes, the homosexual scenes distressed me and made me queasy.) And yet, there he is, in all his fictional power and extremely sloppy humanity: neither pauper nor prince, neither straight nor gay, neither hero nor coward, neither fully sincere nor totally duplicitous, neither pacificist nor Johnny Bull, neither sane nor insane, both the hunter and the hunted. In his multiplicity he becomes Everysoldier. And the power of Pat Barker's prose is to make the reader care profoundly about Billy Prior's fate, consigned, as we all knew that he would be, to the "ghost road" of the title.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent conclusion to superb series! Sept. 30 2002
The author's note at the end of The Ghost Road is a cold splash of water. Up until then, the reader is so caught up in the lives of Barker's characters, their battlefields, their memories. Making the reader care about her characters is a singular achievement given how unsentimentally they are drawn and given how historical characters can sometimes sound stilted in lesser hands.
In The Ghost Road, Barker picks up where she left off from the earlier books in the series. Lt. Billy Prior has battled his demons and is ready to return to the front in France. His doctor, William Rivers, suffering from the Spanish flu, finds himself harking back to very different days when he was in the South Seas among natives who once celebrated head-hunting.
Barker sets up these two parallels: Rivers' natives mourning their lost rite of head-hunting and Rivers' soldiers back on the battlefields mourning a way of life prior to the war, prior to the horrors of watching your comrades -- the people one eats with, drinks with, shares dreams with -- falling to their anonymous deaths. In essence, one group mourns death; the other mourns life.
Skillfully she weaves these two strands together in a poetic ending that leaves the reader wholly satisfied and yet regretful, regretful that there is no more, that this is the last book in her superb series, that we will never see these characters again.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great war literature -- great book
Everyone living in the 21st century who cares about the future of humanity -- not to mention fine literature -- should read this extremely skillfully written, emotionally powerful... Read more
Published on Oct. 24 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars I was disturbed and intensely involved with this book
Not your ordinary war read. I love authors that take a topic of huge proportions, say World War I, and write a book that actually stands taller in the imagination of the reader as... Read more
Published on Jan. 9 2003 by "jenniferbraun"
1.0 out of 5 stars Unhappy Viewers
The ghost road is written by a woman who thinks she knows the details of a man's life in WW1. This can be added to the long list of [bad] books that have won the booker prize. Read more
Published on Dec 16 2002 by playthegame
4.0 out of 5 stars Not quite there, but close
The Ghost Road draws the reader in immediately with very restrained lyrical prose -- it reminded me of tight, well crafted poetry that is full of raw imagery and free of... Read more
Published on July 18 2001 by live to try
4.0 out of 5 stars Don't let your prejudice cloud your judgement
This is good book contrasting two societies and their relationship to war. An officer, recovered from shell shock returns to the front while the psychiatrist who treated him... Read more
Published on April 30 2001 by Peter Johns
2.0 out of 5 stars The Booker Prize (Upper Class Novels Only Please)
Dull. Dissapointing. Snobbery is evident within the narrative - i.e. from the writer not the characters, - ranks below officer are as a seperate species. Read more
Published on March 12 2001 by Sean Murphy
1.0 out of 5 stars This book is an abomination
Statement against the continuation of the War (1917)
I am making this statement as an act of willful defiance of military authority, because I believe that the war is being... Read more
Published on Nov. 26 2000 by Orrin C. Judd
4.0 out of 5 stars The End
This was a people perishing from the absence of war.
"The Ghost Road" ends the 3-book cycle written by Pat Barker of her study of World War I, the men who were part of history... Read more
Published on Nov. 24 2000 by taking a rest
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful but shattering culmination to the trilogy
This book shouldn't be read without its two predecessor volumes, which introduce and develop the two central characters, one based on fact (Rivers), one totally fictional (Prior). Read more
Published on May 6 2000
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