#BookBingo – Set in a Time of War

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This year I am continuing to participate in Book Bingo hosted by Theresa, Ashleigh and Amanda. Some changes have been made to the Bingo Card, less boxes and a thematic approach, giving readers quite a bit of flexibility. This month I am marking off Set in a Time of War with Regeneration by Pat Barker.

Regeneration  was the focus of a #BookSnap post a few weeks ago when I had just started reading it. Barker leaves no doubt to the sheer horror of the First World War and the psychological trauma suffered by the soldiers. Regeneration  particularly highlights the way shell-shock was viewed by the War Board, treating psychologists and those who experienced it. There are a number of characters, but the heart of the narrative focuses on the relationship between Siegfried Sassoon, poet, soldier and war protester, and …W. H. R. Rivers, a military psychologist, whose job it is to get soldiers back to the front.

In July 1917, Sassoon wrote “Finished with the War: A Soldiers Declaration” in an attempt to bring attention to the truth of the war. He was frustrated and angry at the futile waste of life, while those who made the decisions lived in safety. Ultimately his protest fell on deaf ears and he spent time at Craiglockhart, a psychiatric hospital for the treatment of soldiers. Through his memories and conversations with Rivers, Sassoon reveals the true horror of the war.

He remembered the day before Arras, staggering from the outpost trench to the main trench and back again, carrying boxes of trench mortar bombs, passing the same corpses time after time, until their twisted and blackened shapes began to seem like old friends.

Sassoon is witty and sarcastic, describing the act of going over the trenches in a chilling, matter of fact way that highlights the sheer madness of trench warfare.

You blow the whistle. You climb the ladder. Then you double through a gap in the wire, lie flat, wait…and then you stand up. And you start walking. Not at the double. Normal walking speed…In a straight line. Across open country. In broad daylight. Towards a line of machine-guns…Oh, and of course, you’re being shelled all the way.

Sassoon leads Rivers to reflect and question his own attitude to the war, his duty as military psychologist and the lies that send thousands of young men to their death.

The Great Adventure… crouching in a dugout, waiting to be killed.

Regeneration is at times a difficult but worthwhile read. Barker’s prose is beautifully written, but the truth about war is always brutal and gruesome, even nauseating. The sheer loss of life of those who never returned and the long-lasting trauma of those who did must always remain central when we talk about war.

A society that devours its own young deserves no automatic or unquestioning allegiance.

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