Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 3
My title quote this week refers to the books ‘Regeneration’ by Pat Barker and ‘Brighton Rock’ by Graham Greene, two reasonably modern classics which both deal with the subject of young men undergoing traumatic experiences and the consequences of this type of involvement on a person’s psychology. I know, pretty heavy stuff, right?
Barker’s ‘Regeneration’ trilogy has become extraordinarily successful since its first publication in 1991; the Observer named it as one of ‘the 10 best historical novels’ last year. The three novels are a blend of historical fact and fiction, telling the story of the First World War through the psychological trauma of some of the soldiers, including among others, Siegfried Sassoon (who, I was surprised to learn, did not die during WW1, but much later in 1967) and Wilfred Owen, probably the two most famous war poets of the twentieth century. Okay everyone, bring out the banners, start banging the drums, ready the trumpets… I actually like the protagonist in this novel! I know, it’s a miracle: ‘O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!’ The central army psychologist, W.H.R. Rivers is compassionate, clever, troubled, confused and, above all, believable, as indeed are most of the characters in this novel. What is particularly extraordinary is how much more moving at times ‘Regeneration’ is than any of the books which deal with war directly. Not only are the deaths, the injuries, the traumatic experiences written in a vivid and poignant way, but the isolation experienced by the soldiers among a crowd, the experiences of the women working in the factories and all the complex issues surrounding war, not just the Great War but all wars, are examined, not in such a way that alienates the reader, but still in minute and challenging detail. I often found my opinions confronted head on by viewpoints your brain immediately rejects, but is explained in such a logical fashion that it is hard to contradict them. Personally, I found these aspects and the dream-analysis sections particularly interesting, as I think all that psychological/ Freudian/ ethical problem stuff is fascinating, but I feel you’d still enjoy this book, even if all that isn’t quite your cup of tea.
However, if you’re more into violence and gore, perhaps ‘Brighton Rock’ would be more worth a try. There’s something cold and brutal about a knife versus a gun, and that is perhaps what makes some of the violence in Greene’s novel so chilling; a knife is somehow more personal – you have to really mean it to slice someone to ribbons. Basically the novel is about gang warfare in Brighton in 1938 (they changed it to 1964 in the movie, I guess to make the rivalry more intense between mods and rockers. Then again, they changed a bunch of stuff in the movie, so the date really wasn’t a major concern), specifically about a series of incidents brought about by the leader of one gang, Kite’s, death. Pinkie Brown, not even an adult yet, must assume the role of leader; as Kite’s prodigy he is devoid of any love, ruthless, literally cut-throat, a figure of pure evil. Stopping at nothing to avoid retribution, he silences the only witness to the murder of Fred Hale, Rose, by making her fall in love with him, even though the whole idea of adoration, love and sex is completely alien to him; even, perhaps, the only thing that really scares him. Meanwhile, Ida Arnold, a woman used to getting what she wants, is determined to avenge Hale’s death and will stop at nothing to find out everything she possibly can about the gang, Rose and the increasingly sinister events that proceed. Although I found the book a little hard to get into a first, after a while, it certainly lives up to its reputation as ‘gripping’. I couldn’t put it down; definitely recommended for those who like action-packed, pacey novels. In terms of the film (starring Helen Mirren, Sam Riley and Andrea Riseborough), as I’ve said, they change a lot of details, especially Pinkie’s aversion, nay, repugnance at the thought of any physical contact, but the plot isn’t spoiled for any of the additions/deletions. However, in the book, the character of Pinkie is incredibly complex and is much more explored than in the film, and that was what drew the story forward for me, just as the psychological elements are what interested me in ‘Regeneration’. However, you don’t need to find these interesting to enjoy the books – they’re both amazing anyway; just read the reviews ;).
So… that’s it for this post! I’ve just read ‘The Scarlet Letter’ and loads of books coincidentally all talking about modern history and fascism vs. communism, so I’ll upload a post on that asap. Hope you enjoyed it, and thanks for perusing my page 🙂
P.s. Sorry about the awful photo formatting – I think my blog has turned on me or something; I’ll try and get it under control by next post 😉