Regeneration – Pat Barker

BOOK #170
Reviewer: Beth’s List Love (review previously published February 5, 2014)

RegenerationThe books in this trilogy have received awards and huge critical acclaim, but I was having trouble getting excited about starting them.

Once again I have learned that I irrationally fear historical fiction, but love it once I begin to read. This book was particularly interesting to me as a psychologist and faculty member teaching psychology. I am far from psychoanalytic in orientation, but this novel does a marvelous job of illustrating how some of the techniques of psychoanalysis can be tremendously useful in understanding psychological phenomena.

The novel also beautifully illustrates the many potential psychiatric manifestations of war trauma. It is written with tremendous compassion for the men whose lives it portrays, soldiers suffering shell shock in the first world war and the doctors treating them. This was a very moving account of the impact of combat in WWI on both the men at the front and those who treated them after the psychologically traumatic events they lived through. It’s based on real people and real events.

It is beautifully written, combining some of the real poetry written by soldiers in their time convalescing in a military psychiatric hospital with the author’s own equally well-crafted prose. This novel, which is the first of the trilogy, explores questions about the morality of war, about the ways in which the military and political aims of those safe and in power are played out at great cost by those who actually do the fighting, about the morality of returning psychologically traumatized individuals to relative mental health only to send them back into the trauma.

It juxtaposes two very different ways of treating conversion symptoms which translate conflicts about returning to combat into debilitating physical symptoms, and provides excellent examples of psychodynamic psychotherapy complete with analysis of dreams. I used it to teach my personality theories course the day I started reading it, because it was so perfect for illustrating some of what I was teaching about.

I am really looking forward to the rest of the series! 5 out of 5 stars.

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