Romancing the Ghost

The Ghost Road

The Ghost Road is a novel by Pat Barker, first published in 1995 and winner of the Booker Prize. It is the third volume of a trilogy that follows the fortunes of shell-shocked British army officers towards the end of the First World War. The other books in the trilogy are Regeneration and The Eye in the Door.

The war poet Siegfried Sassoon, who appears as a major character in the first book, Regeneration, is relegated to a minor role in this final volume, in which the main players are the fictional working-class officer, Billy Prior, and the real-life psychoanalyst, William Rivers. Thus Barker explores possible relationships between real people and fictional characters.

Plot summary

Prior, despite his new-found peace of mind and engagement to munitions worker Sarah, has been affected by the war and therefore does not have a lot of concern for his safety. Going along with this theme, he has a lot of risky sexual encounters; his only rule is that he never pays for sex - a rule he eventually breaks. This episode is a symbolic capitulation to the inevitability of his death at the Western Front, a fate he shares with the poet, Wilfred Owen.

Rivers, concerned for Prior's safety, finally recognises that his relationship with Prior, and his other patients for that matter, is deeply paternal. In contrast with upper-class officers like Sassoon, with whom Rivers has been able to form warm friendships, he has always found Prior a thorn in his side. As Prior returns to the front, Rivers reminisces uncomfortably about his childhood and research expeditions as a young anthropologist.

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