Regeneration by Pat Barker ~ Book Review

REGENERATION by Pat Barker ~ Book Review.

Regeneration is a brilliant, intense, and subtle novel that explores the traumas of war and the brutalized generation of young men. Set in the era of world war I the story talks about war traumatized young men in a lunatic asylum treated by an army psychiatrist – Dr William Rivers.


“Craiglockhart War Hospital, Scotland, 1917, where army psychiatrist William Rivers is treating shell-shocked soldiers. Under his care are the poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, as well as mute Billy Prior, who is only able to communicate by means of pencil and paper. River’s job is to make the men in his charge healthy enough to fight. Yet the closer he gets to mending his patients’ minds, the harder becomes every decision to send them back to the horrors of the front.”

Regeneration is the first book of the regeneration trilogy, the books that follows are:
The Eye in the Door
and The Ghost Road

The first book of the trilogy “Regeneration” is a novel of tremendous power. When at first I started reading about the traumas of world war one, war that I believe was deliberately prolonged by those who have the powers to end it, I felt terrible. I mean I can’t say that no war is ever justified. Perhaps some wars are but I can’t see justice in this level of slaughtering.

Every time the plot of the book threw at me any rhetorical question, I could feel the silence in my heart. It deepened – the silence. Like a fall of snow accumulating snow by snow, flake by flake, each flake by itself inconsiderable, until everything is transformed.

Lessons that this book taught me are –

  1. Nightmares are not something we are supposed to run from. And if we ever start running we will never be able to stop.
  2. Breakdown is nothing to be ashamed of for tears are an acceptable and helpful part of grieving.
  3. Horror and fear are inevitable responses to the trauma of war. So if humans take the pledge to substitute wars with peace and negotiations the world will be a better place.
  4. When all else fail the wounded hearts choose poetry to express the intense feelings.
  5. The trouble with port and lemon is that the truth pours out.


Though the lunatic asylum where Dr. Rivers worked at has around hundred and sixty eight patients but the plot revolves around three of them – Billy Prior, Sassoon, and Owen. Every now and then more characters are introduced. Here every time I am using the word “characters” I feel pretty uncomfortable. These are not merely characters of the plot. The plot has both facts and fiction interwoven in it. The real existence of Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, and River Graves gives the plot more life.

As the plot progress you will be able to notice the change in ideas and thoughts of Dr Rivers. The last few chapters introduce the readers to Dr. Yealland’s horrific methods of treating the traumatic young men with an aim to cure them and send them back at war.


As a whole the book has a melancholic tone but the writing style is very crisp. The description of war, the nightmares, and the trauma that follows can send shiver down the spine of the reader. I can say that Pat Barker did total justice in interweaving the facts and fiction.

Nothing is overly expressed or understated in the book. I have a habit of underlining appealing lines when I read any book. While reading Regeneration I couldn’t put my pen down. Mentioning few lines below that totally broke my heart.

I looked back and the ground was covered with wounded. Lying on top of each other, writhing. Like fish in a pond that’s drying out.

In a war nobody is a free agent.

People who were prepared to die had at least the right not to be kept waiting.

I don’t know that there is “a kind of person who breaks down”. I imagine most of us could if the pressure were bad enough.

A war-book with no fights and guns but everything psychic is something we must read. This is what makes the war – the horror, the traumas, and everything worse that war leaves behind. Even though we have hundreds of heroes winning it and making their names, nothing will count once we understand the psychological effect that it leads to.

Regeneration moved me in a way that no war-book ever did. I am definitely picking up the second book of this trilogy right away.

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