The Ghost Road | Critical Review by Tony Gould

This literature criticism consists of approximately 2 pages of analysis & critique of The Ghost Road.
This section contains 425 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Tony Gould

Critical Review by Tony Gould

SOURCE: "Undertones of War," in New Statesman & Society, Vol. 8, No. 372, September 29, 1995, p. 57.

In the review below, Gould remarks favorably on The Ghost Road.

[The Ghost Road] is the final volume in Pat Barker's impressive trilogy of novels about the first world war. The first, Regeneration, is set in Craiglockhart, the war hospital famous (in literary history, at least) as the place where Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen met, and centres on Sassoon's clinical relationship with the psychologist and anthropologist W H R Rivers. The second, The Eye in the Door, in which Rivers again plays a major role, also deals with historical events—the ill-treatment of pacifists and the hounding of homosexuals. The Ghost Road links Rivers' past, and his fieldwork in Melanesia, and his hospital work with victims of "shell-shock" as the war draws to a close.

But Rivers is not the only hero of the trilogy. There is also the entirely fictional Billy Prior, an infantry officer from a working-class background who provides the stroppy, gritty northern perspective familiar to readers of Barker's earlier novels. Where the bachelor Rivers' sexuality is a matter for delicate speculation, Prior is characterised by an aggressive bisexuality. What both men share is a damaged childhood. In Rivers' case, the damage seems trivial; in Prior's, it is extreme, the effect of a brutal father and an abusing priest. But this common thread establishes as wary affection between the two.

In The Ghost Road, Prior offers himself as a kind of test case for Rivers to see if the "cure" for neurasthenia achieved at Craiglockhart will hold under the renewed pressures of the front line. So his sensations and the events of the last weeks of the war, in which one of his companions is Wilfred Owen, are presented in diary form, giving them great immediacy. Rivers almost succumbs in the Spanish flu epidemic, and in his fever relives his time among Pacific headhunters.

The link between sex and both headhunting and war is emphasised. Rivers describes the headhunters, following the suppression of their favourite pastime by the British authorities, as "a people perishing from the absence of war". This may be ironic in the context of a war in which the peoples of Europe perished in their thousands. But that alone would hardly justify the juxtaposition of the two narratives. What really binds them is their common obsession with dying, death and ghosts. This subtle novel provides a worthy conclusion to a gripping series, which combines fact and fiction in an unusually satisfying manner.

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This section contains 425 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Tony Gould
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