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The Ghost Road (William Abrahams) Paperback – November 1, 1996

4.1 out of 5 stars 47 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The Booker Prize recently awarded to Barker for this book, the culmination of her astonishing WWI trilogy that began with Regeneration and The Eye in the Door, persuaded Dutton to move publication ahead by eight months, which is good news for American readers. Though it would seem almost impossible to look at that appalling conflict with a fresh eye, Barker has succeeded in ways that define the novelist's art: by close observation as well as by deployment of a broad and painfully compassionate vision, all rendered in prose whose very simplicity speaks volumes. The present book can be read without reference to the others, but all are mutually enriching. They revolve around William Rivers, a psychologist who pioneered the treatment of shell shock, and some of his patients, who include such real-life figures as poets Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, as well as the fictional Lieutenant Billy Prior, a bisexual whose life as an officer is complicated by his working-class origins. The questions the trilogy addresses are profound ones like the nature of sanity, the politics of class, war and sex, and the struggle to maintain humanity in the face of meaningless slaughter. In The Ghost Road, the war is nearing its end, which renders the continuing horrors of trench warfare ever more futile. Prior is sent back to the front after Rivers's treatment, enjoys a strange idyllic interlude in a ruined village, rescues a horribly wounded fellow officer and then faces the stupidest massacre of all. Meanwhile Rivers takes on new nightmare cases?and begins to remember his anthropological researches in Melanesia years before, when he strove to understand the rituals of a people whose greatest pleasure, head-hunting, had been abolished by a British colonial administration. The contrast between the primitives' deeply considered approach to death and the pointless killing indulged in by supposedly more civilized people is only hinted at, but it gives the book, particularly in its deeply eloquent concluding pages, enormous resonance. The whole trilogy, which in its entirety is only equivalent in length to one blockbuster serial-killer frenzy, is a triumph of an imagination at once poetic and practical.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

The latest winner of Britain's prestigious Booker Prize, this final volume completes a trilogy that includes Regeneration (1992) and The Eye in the Door (1994). Displaying the remarkable virtuosity that has won her a good deal of praise, Barker further embellishes upon history, shepherding readers even more deeply into the psyches of her vividly rendered characters. Poet Wilfred Owen reappears, as does psychologist William Rivers and his invalid sister, Katherine, who as a child was befriended by Lewis Carroll. Here, Rivers becomes ill and is haunted by memories of the headhunters he lived with and studied in Melanesia. But it is Barker's riveting and complex portrait of Billy Prior that delivers the message of the pathos and horrors of war. When Prior returns to the trenches after recovering from shell shock, he describes in diary form the final battles of World War I. Restrained yet powerfully expressive, Barker writes at full tilt, with compelling humanity. Alice Joyce --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: William Abrahams
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Plume (November 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0452276721
  • ISBN-13: 978-0452276727
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,250,999 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Although "Regeneration" is my favorite of Pat Barker's World War I trilogy, I thought "The Ghost Road" was a brilliant and tragic ending. The novel takes us to the final days of World War I, where we witness the tragic fate of Billy Prior, the working-class anti-hero of the trilogy. Interspersed with his experiences in France we also join the psychiatrist, Dr. Rivers. Rivers deals with his unpleasant duty of preparing men to return to battle as he remembers his anthropological work in the Melanesian islands, amongst the members of a culture that was slowly dying out.
Barker's restrained style is extremely moving -- far more so than the florid prose of Sebastian Faulks' World War I novel "Birdsong." Every time I've read this novel, I've been moved to tears.
P.S. The reader from South Africa who was so incensed at Ms. Barker's "factual inaccuracies" might want to check again: There were indeed air raids over England in World War I -- they were carried out by the infamous Zeppelins! Also, Dr. Rivers was living amongst the head-hunters of Melanesia in the Pacific (probably Borneo or thereabouts) NOT Africa.
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Format: Hardcover
THE GHOST ROAD is the final volume of Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy, and the winner of the 1995 Booker Prize. Throughout the trilogy Barker performs a phenomenal job of detailing the psychological consequences of trench warfare during the Great War. Set in London and France, THE GHOST ROAD focuses on the principle characters of Billy Prior and the renowned Dr. Rivers and their personal relationships with each other and the First World War. The reader is provided a glimpse into the terrible conditions of trench fighting, and how the medical establishment viewed shell-shock as a medical diagnosis and how it was treated. Through the poetry of Owen, Sassoon, etc, the world can begin to understand the personal horrors they have witnessed of a war that many did not understand. Based loosely on historical events and characters, Barker has created a perspective of modern warfare that does not contain the quintessential happy ending.
I believe each volume of the Regeneration Trilogy should be read in chronological order (REGENERATION, THE EYE IN THE DOOR, AND THE GHOST ROAD) to fully appreciate the merits of each volume. Although the plot is re-summarized at the beginning of each book, the main characters are continually being developed throughout. I just finished reading GHOST ROAD, and I have to admit that it's not my favorite of the three. I don't understand how this volume was awarded the Booker Prize when I believe REGENERATION is the strongest of the bunch. I also enjoyed THE EYE IN THE DOOR because of the exploration of societal issues during The First War, especially scape-goating of homosexuals and pacifists.
Overall, this trilogy is a wonderful glimpse into the atmosphere of Britain during the First World War.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I reviewed REGENERATION, the first volume in Pat Barker's WW1 trilogy, when I first read it and liked it. I did not submit a review of the second volume, THE EYE IN THE DOOR, because it did not seem to sustain the promise (or answer the questions) of the first, and I felt it necessary to see how this third volume would pull the threads together. My verdict: while THE GHOST ROAD is certainly a more focused book than its predecessor, it still does not quite sew the trilogy into a coherent whole.

Barker's method is to take a huge subject that has been much written about, the first World War, and to examine it from unusual angles. Almost all the first two books and the first two-thirds of this one take place in Britain rather than in France. They do not show the war itself, but its effects on the damaged minds of soldiers who return from it, and on social attitudes at home. The brilliance of the first volume was to take two real people -- the poet Siegfried Sassoon and the pioneering psychiatrist William Rivers -- and trace their interaction at Craiglockhart mental hospital, where Sassoon has been sent after publishing a denunciaton of the war. I doubt that Barker had a trilogy in mind when she wrote the first book, and it might have been difficult to have extended it further in the same vein. THE EYE IN THE DOOR suffers from having too many characters; there is a bit of Sassoon, a bit of Rivers, and a bewildering array of new people, but the main character is a relatively minor figure from the first book, Billy Prior.
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By A Customer on November 26, 2002
Format: Paperback
First, a comment on the review from the "Top 50 Reviewer" from NH: I find his(her?) entire review willfully odd in many regards, not the least of which is the claim that to read the historian John Keegan is to discover that the war was well conducted.
But I digress... The point of the novel, indeed the trilogy, seems to me to be betrayal. Whatever else he is, Billy Prior seems to have been betrayed, to varying degress, by most of those whom he has encounterd: father, mother, priest, military superiors, Empire, and, most probably but at least humanely, Rivers himself. In the final tally, there seems to be little difference between governments prosecuting the war to its last gasp ("And then the next day in 'John Bull' there's Bottomley saying, No, no, no and once again no. We must fight to the bitter end.")---and the headhunting Melanesians. To the (possible) credit of the Melanesians, they at least understand that they are unreconstructed headhunters.
The manipulative, sexually voracious, and profoundly self-aware Billy Prior is an unforgettable fictional creation. (And, yes, the homosexual scenes distressed me and made me queasy.) And yet, there he is, in all his fictional power and extremely sloppy humanity: neither pauper nor prince, neither straight nor gay, neither hero nor coward, neither fully sincere nor totally duplicitous, neither pacificist nor Johnny Bull, neither sane nor insane, both the hunter and the hunted. In his multiplicity he becomes Everysoldier. And the power of Pat Barker's prose is to make the reader care profoundly about Billy Prior's fate, consigned, as we all knew that he would be, to the "ghost road" of the title.
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