Context: Started reading this as we browsed charity shops in Cambridge. By the next day I’d finished it and had some more books to add to my groaning shelves.
Not read any Pat Barker but have wanted to for a long time. Glad I finally got round to it. The woman can surely write. And she’s a bit of a novelty too as she hails from Thornaby-on-Tees in the northeast of England. There’s not much worth reviewing on Teesside let me tell you so she definitely stands out from the crowd.
This book is haunting in its complex simplicity right from the start. It has an immediacy that strikes you from the very beginning. You’re introduced to characters so intimately that you feel you are halfway through the book already. I appreciated this.
The novel focusses on one family’s ability to hold themselves together. They’re each fighting social trauma in some way or other be it broken relationships, parental issues, bullying or memories of 80 years ago. And, threaded throughout this is the haunting history of a family who lived in their house 100 years before them.
It’s moving and there’s sympathy for pretty much every character, even when they do horrible things to one another. I liked that. I thought it was very human and showed great understanding of the full range of our humanity. None of us deserves any mercy and, for that reason, mercy is the only right response to our failings. I think Barker knows this well and the last line of the novel (see below) reveals this clearly in a sentence that could well be an analogy of a First World War battlefield.
While I was reading this, I managed to pick up the last book in the Regeneration trilogy which I’ve been searching charity shops for months for. Another World was removed from the 1001 books list. Regeneration wasn’t. I’m very much looking forward to more of her writing as I begin that series.
Cars queue bumper to bumper, edge forward, stop, edge forward again.
the past never threatens anything as simple, or as avoidable, as repetition.
But now, looking round this churchyard, at the gently decaying stones that line the path, he sees that there’s wisdom too in this: to let the innocent and the guilty, the murderers and the victims, lie together beneath their half-erased names, side by side, under the obliterating grass.
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