Well, I took me two weeks, but I’ve finally finished The Regeneration Trilogy.
There are certain books that you know you’re supposed to like, these are some of them.
In a nutshell
Set in The First World War, the three books deal with the psychological, physical and social impact of war on both the fighters, and to a lesser extent, those left at home.
Regeneration focuses on a psychiatrist trying to patch soldiers up and get them back out to the fighting. The Eye in the Door continues the study of the psychological issues, but also looks at social change among the civilian population. The Ghost Road takes us to the front line and focuses on the psychiatrist’s experiences as an anthropologist before the war.
It’s a challenging book. I can appreciate the skill that went into writing it, but I can’t think of anything redeeming happening in it.
It’s all death, meaningless sex, nightmares, bitterness, rage and despair.
All three books felt rather flat. Most books (the ones that I read anyway) have plots with a pattern of peaks and troughs, like:
- Bad thing happens
- People react to the bad thing
- More bad things happen
- People act
- Good thing happens
- Very bad thing happens, etc.
This was more:
- dreary, depressing thing happens
- another dreary, depressing thing happens
- another….you get the idea.
If I described the emotion the books left me with as a colour, it would be grey. I feel grey.
Now, this may be a wonderful literary device – the reader is left a morose and annoyed. They’re left thinking about the utter pointlessness of that war. Okay, but come on – just one nice thing! Just one!
There is not one character in the book who is not, in some way, damaged. This damage usually dates from before the war, but the war exacerbates it.
In the first book, my favourite characters were Rivers (the psychiatrist), and the poets, Sassoon and Owen (I studied them both at school, so it was fun to read fictional versions of them). They were the three characters who were easiest to identify with.
But, the books (especially the latter two) focused on another character, called Prior. He made my skin crawl. As the books went on, you can see what made him the way he was, but still the author could have come up with a more pleasant main character.
He wasn’t evil, or corrupt (both of which can be very engaging characteristics). He was grubby. His actions, his thoughts, everything was negative or icky in some way. It doesn’t make you want to read on.
What is great writing?
Great writing is subjective.
Now, the writer of these books has been recognised as a great writer. I can appreciate her skill.
In the same way that I can look at a work of art and think, “wow, that artist is a really good painter”. But, for me, the story is more important than the writers skill with words. I’d rather think “this painting is amazing” than be left admiring the brush strokes. In short, I want the writer to disappear, and the story to take over.
It didn’t feel like there was a story in these books, more like a series of events that aided character development. I kept reading because I had to, not because the writer forced me to keep turning the page.
I know I tend to prefer genre fiction, but there are literary works that I love. Literary books can have a plot, and compelling characters. I did have empathy for the characters in the Regeneration Trilogy, but, as these books have shown me, empathy is not enough.