Review: Eye in the Door by Pat Barker

London, 1918. Billy Prior is working for Intelligence in the Ministry of Munitions. But his private encounters with women and men – pacifists, objectors, homosexuals – conflict with his duties as a soldier, and it is not long before his sense of himself fragments and breaks down. Forced to consult the man who helped him before – army psychiatrist William Rivers – Prior must confront his inability to be the dutiful soldier his superiors wish him to be. The Eye in the Door is a heart-rending study of the contradictions of war and of those forced to live through it. The second book in the Regeneration trilogy.

Review by Charlie Cochrane

The Eye in the Door starts just about at the point Regeneration had got to – Billy Prior looking to get his leg over and not too bothered about who it’s with, male or female. He, and the real life characters Dr. Rivers and Siegfried Sassoon, carry on their journey through World War I, finding the way to survive and do their duty as best they can.

One of the themes of Regeneration, the first book in the Trilogy, is the different ways in which men can be helped, or be made, to overcome what we’d loosely call shell-shock. This book looks at the ways in which people use separation of different parts of their personality to survive the rigours of war or of conforming to society. Sassoon combines being an excellent soldier, one who enjoys being with and leading his men, with a man whose conscience tells him that the war is being deliberately prolonged. Rivers has two conflicting parts to his character which are just hinted at, although the reader might guess that one of them is that he’s a closeted homosexual.

Manning, an injured officer now doing desk work, juggles his affection for his wife and children with homosexual desires – desires which leave him open to blackmail. And the continually intriguing and baffling Prior appears to have some sort of multiple personality disorder, a mechanism by which he has coped with traumatic experiences but one which is becoming an increasing threat to his leading a normal life.

All of these themes are deftly handled and interwoven, Pat Barker’s simple yet eloquently effective way with words driving the narrative and making it a riveting read. The mingling of real characters and original is generally handled well, Rivers and Sassoon being believable and sympathetic. However, there are a couple of places where the introduction of real characters – chance meetings with Robbie Ross and Harold Spencer – seem contrived and a bit ‘clunky’. (Like in a film when there’s some casual and unconvincing mention of a contemporaneous event or personality.)

The Eye in the Door won’t give you a comfortable read or a happy ending, but it’s a cracking good story and is well worth putting on your ‘to read’ list.

NB: An afterthought: I did wonder whether Russell T Davies had read these books and been influenced by Prior in the creation of another greatcoat wearing omnisexual officer…

Buy:   Amazon UK Amazon USA

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