Book Review: Regeneration

‘A society that devours its own young deserves no automatic or unquestioning allegiance…’

I’ve never really vibed with historical fiction (hello, fellow kids!). Aside from the work of genius that is The Damned United, I traditionally like to keep my facts and fiction very much separate, thank you very much. I made an exception for Regeneration for professional reasons, but also because I have recently developed an interest in trench warfare. I’ve reached the age that all white men reach in which they become obsessed with World War One. Inevitable as the tides…

Published in 1991, Pat Barker’s novel is the first in a trilogy based around famous wartime psychiatrist W.H.R. Rivers. This first novel takes in Rivers’ time at Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh working with famed war poet, soldier and pacifist Siegfried Sassoon. It also features fellow war poet Wilfred Owen, as well as a number of other significant historical figures of the time.

Regeneration is a tough book to pin down. On the one hand, it’s funny, salacious and anarchic. On the other, it is poignant, gruelling and heartbreaking. It is this dichotomy, however, that gives the novel its unique flavour, and crucially, no matter the mood or tone, it is never anything other than a page-turner. The characters are so well drawn, so lived in, that it’s impossible not to get caught up in the action. The fact that there are so many characters actually works in the book’s favour, bringing to mind the similarly huge cast of that other great anti-war novel Catch 22.

Regeneration is essential reading for those with an interest in WWI or Sassoon, but it’s also a truly engaging story with compelling characters and a captivating message running through it. I absolutely adored it.