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.