Another World

Another World

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by Pat Barker
     
 

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Suppose time can slow down. Suppose it's not an ever-rolling stream, but something altogether more viscous and unpredictable, like blood. Suppose it coagulates around terrible events, clots them over, stops the flow . . .

During the hazy Newcastle summer, Nick's grandfather Geordie lies dying. A proud and resilient man, he has long outlived his peers but not the

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Overview

Suppose time can slow down. Suppose it's not an ever-rolling stream, but something altogether more viscous and unpredictable, like blood. Suppose it coagulates around terrible events, clots them over, stops the flow . . .

During the hazy Newcastle summer, Nick's grandfather Geordie lies dying. A proud and resilient man, he has long outlived his peers but not the memories of his youth during World War I. As Nick watches, Geordie starts to relive the horrors that surrounded his brother's death in the painful days before his own.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Another World demonstrates the extraordinary immediacy and vigor of expression we have come to expect from Barker . . . A powerful and moving and deeply humane study of the tyranny of the past and the quandaries of the present."—Barry Unsworth, The New York Times Book Review

"[Pat Barker] is the natural successor to George Orwell, like him a keen and passionate defender of humiliated children, foot soldiers and what's become of the British working class."—Newsday

"One of Pat Barker's gifts is her mix of compassion and bleak realism . . . Barker's confidence as a stripped-down, elegant stylist is evenly matched by her moral depth."The Boston Sunday Globe

"Barker is capable of getting across a powerful message with the absolute minimum of rhetoric, one of the rarest gifts a writer can be blessed with. The surface simplicity of her method conceals, then slowly reveals, a narrative with all the richness and complexity of a symphony."—The New Criterion

"This old-fashioned novel in a modern idiom remains one of the best things she has ever done, surely the most moving." —Ruth Rendell, author of Harm Done

"A remarkable novel, stark but human at the center." —The Sunday Star-Ledger

"[Barker's] remarkable visits to the past help replenish the emptying containers of memory by substituting storytelling for forgetting. With her novels, she adds dignity to this century's often bleak and undignified human record." —The Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Barker's writing is brilliant; the thoughtful, inventively composed sentences are a joy to read."

The Austin American Statesman

The Barnes & Noble Review
A good novel draws readers into a situation in which they have an emotional stake in the characters and their story. Through this personal connection, readers have an opportunity to learn about themselves and possibly about the larger world. A great novel, on the other hand, one like Pat Barker's eighth novel, Another World , achieves this while mysteriously shadowing reality with such haunting detail and clarity of vision that "conjuring" seems a more appropriate word for the process than mere "writing." Another World is packed with chilling millennial insight, whether it be into the current media celebration of centenarians, the specter of a ground war in Europe, our revisiting of past wars in recent films such as Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line, or the mass murder of students by students at Columbine High School.

Pat Barker hasn't always been the grande dame of English literature. While her first four books were generously reviewed in America, they were all but ignored at home. From Durham, England, an old cathedral town where, she jokes, crime is the chief industry, Barker says, "My work explores the English class system, and I was, and still am to an extent, read through distorted glasses because of it. If you're writing about people who left school at 15 and haven't got much money, well, this surely isn't a worthy subject for literature. But Americans aren't so hung up about such nonsense." Labeled a gritty, working-class, feminist writer, Barker, in a sense, had written herself into a corner. "The natural instinct is to talk yourselfoutof something like this," she says, "but the real truth is that you have to write your way out of it, which takes some time." And as the general tenor of her work slowly began to change, so did the attention in England.

Today, Barker's reputation rests on her massive exploration of the fallout of war, the acclaimed Regeneration trilogy — the concluding volume of which won England's most esteemed literary award, the Booker Prize. In each of these three immensely moving and impeccably researched historical novels ( Regerneration, The Eye in the Door, The Ghost Road), Barker explores the psychological aftermath of fighting in the trenches of World War I. In Another World , she returns to the First World War, but this time through Geordie, a 101-year-old veteran eking out the last months of his seen-it-all, done-it-all life. Barker grew up with men like Geordie, so this was a natural direction for her. She says, "My grandfather suffered a bayonet wound in the First World War; my stepfather came home with permanent lung damage because he was gassed in the trenches at 15; my father disappeared in the Second World War; and my uncle came home shell-shocked, a very different man from the one who left in 1939. It's quite easy to see how I became interested in the continuing cost of war, the idea that the trail of psychiatric casualties mount over time."

Nick is Geordie's grandson. He and his second wife, Fran, have recently relocated to the old Fanshawe house in Lob's Hill. Their family is a blend of previous marriages. Jasper is the youngest, Gareth is in the middle, and Miranda (visiting Nick's family for the summer because her mother has been carted off to the asylum), is at 13, the oldest. Fran is also pregnant. This new home was supposed to be a new beginning for them all, especially for Fran, who admits, "I just don't like what I've turned into." But the house, which carries the secret of an oddly foreshadowing murder almost a century before, ultimately destroys such hopes.

At this point the story forks. Nick's stepson Gareth is increasingly becoming a problem. His penchant for evil advances from a rather harmless, although disgusting, swipe of Nick's toothbrush around the rim of a toilet bowl to an attack on Jasper that nearly takes his life. Standing above his brother on a mountain cliff, Gareth hurls a stone that connects, gashing Jasper's head. Barker says she "was interested in the question of whether not it is a uniquely disturbed child who kills or are there other children every bit as disturbed who do not go on to kill." Through Gareth, Barker is saying that the actual business of killing another child happens almost accidentally, as if for some reason all the cards are unluckily aligned on that particular day at that particular time. In the case of Gareth, the only reason Jasper does not die is because the stone is too small.

While Fran and Nick's family life at home is falling apart, Nick must spend his nights taking care of Geordie. Although convinced that he's dying from a bayonet wound suffered more than 80 years ago, Geordie's real nemesis is cancer. "I am in hell," Geordie confesses to Nick between painkillers and nightmares. The war has been torturing him again, especially the memory of his brother Harry, who never made it home. Barker's unflinching portrayal of Geordie's mental and physical decay is gritty, honest, and powerful. The final chapters seamlessly, if not shockingly, weave the story together on several different fronts. And in doing so, Another World announces that while the world may be on the threshold of a new century, a new millennium, and a new beginning, the past is always close behind.

— Nelson Taylor

New Criterion
...[A] resounding testimony to the breadth and durability of her fictional powers....[W]ritten with all the suspense of a thriller....Pat Barker is capable of getting across a powerful message with the absolute minimum of rhetoric...
Michiko Kakutani
[T]he very real virtues of the novel...[are] Ms. Barker's nuanced depiction of her characters' interior lives, her unsentimental rendering of their daily travails and her finely calibrated delineation of the workings of memory....[It is] a novel, one hopes, that will win this talented writer a wider audience in the United States and send readers back to her earlier work.
New York Times
Ruth Rendell
This old-fashioned novel in a modern idiom remains one of the best things she has ever done, surely the most moving.
The Sunday Times(London)
Nan Goldberg

It was William Faulkner who said, "The past isn't over. It isn't even past." Now Pat Barker says it again in Another World, her first novel since her great World War I trilogy, "Regeneration." She says it literally ("Geordie's past isn't over. It isn't even the past"), without even crediting Faulkner, which is kind of cheeky. But she also demonstrates it, using her characters to drive the point home.

Nick, her protagonist, is entrapped in the past in numerous ways. In his second marriage, to Fran, he is dealing with the consequences of his and Fran's first marriages, each of which produced one child: Fran's son, Gareth, who lives with them and is showing signs of being seriously disturbed; and Nick's daughter, Miranda, who as the story begins is coming to stay with them indefinitely. The house the family has just moved into soon reveals itself, through a mural uncovered while stripping wallpaper, to have been the site of another family's tragedy and possibly of a horrific crime. Finally, Nick loves and feels responsible for his dying grandfather, Geordie, who brought him up.

Another World would seem to be a radical shift of focus from "Regeneration," but there is a World War I connection: Geordie insists he is dying not of cancer but of the bayonet wound he suffered in that war. Hounded by some awful memory, he is thrown back onto the battlefield in his dreams every night. When he confesses to having killed his own brother during a battle, Nick is sure his grandfather has become delusional, and yet he can't help wondering if it might be true.

These three main elements — Nick's second marriage and all its complicated step-relationships; the sordid, secret history (complete with ghosts) of Nick's new home; and the dying Geordie and his confession — all illustrate Barker's point, but they are otherwise unconnected except through Nick. Unfortunately, that isn't always enough. Early on, for instance, Nick decides not to divulge the story of the house's previous occupants to his family. Eventually it fades away, a lost narrative thread that has never quite worked its way into the fabric of the plot.

Barker's strength, as usual, is in her perfectly calibrated dialogue, as here, in a conversation Gareth initiates with Miranda:

"Are you going to be here all summer?"

"I don't know."

"Mum doesn't want you here."

"That's all right, I don't want to be here."

"So why are you?"

"My mother's ill. She's in hospital."

"What sort of ill?"

"Depression."

Gareth hesitates, unaware of his ground.

"You don't go into hospital with that."

"That's all you know."

"She's mad."

"She isn't."

"She's in the bin."

"Hospital," Miranda repeats steadily.

Barker's work is always interesting, and this novel is no exception. Each of the parallel stories is absorbing, and most of the characters — particularly Nick, Geordie and the children — are skillfully drawn. Still, some overriding connection seems missing, and in the end, the book is smaller than the sum of its parts.
Salon

Publishers Weekly
The author of the award-winning Regeneration trilogy has changed publishers and time frames for her newest book, but the result is as spellbinding as ever: thoughtful, acutely observed and profoundly moving. Geordie, a WWI veteran, is over 100, but is hanging on to life with the same stubbornness and iconoclasm that have seen him through the entire 20th century. His grandson, Nick, living in grim, contemporary Newcastle-on-Tyne, is struggling with his own life as he monitors Geordie's last days. Nick's teenage daughter from a previous marriage, Miranda, has come to stay; his new wife, Fran, with her own kid, Gareth, a computer games freak, has two-year-old Jasper to contend with and another baby on the way. Now it seems that their new house may be haunted by the kind of malign domestic spirit at large among Nick's little family. Geordie, too, has his own ghosts — a hideous war memory, long buried, that must be exorcised before he can die in peace. Barker mixes brilliantly observed contemporary realism (the strains of family life with children of different ages have seldom been so powerfully rendered) and mystical overtones with dazzling skill. The book has the grip of a superior thriller while introducing, with no sense of strain, a sense of sorrowful mortality that lingers long after the last page. Geordie is a masterly creation, one of the most fully realized characters in contemporary fiction.
Library Journal
Having first won literary acclaim for her gritty depictions of contemporary English working-class life in such novels as Union Street (1982), Barker then moved into historical fiction with her Regeneration trilogy, set during World War I; the final volume, The Ghost Road (LJ 2/15/96), won the 1995 Booker Prize. Now in the haunting Another World, she effectively combines the past with the present. Its a hot summer in the industrial city of Newcastle, and Nick is struggling to care for his ailing centenarian grandfather Geordie while coping with growing tensions in his own blended family. Theres the visiting Miranda, Nicks teenage daughter from a previous marriage; resentful stepson Gareth; and Nicks pregnant wife, Fran, exhausted and angry from having to deal with two-year-old Jasper and the other kids without Nicks help. When the family uncovers beneath the wallpaper of their living room a pornographic portrait of the houses original Victorian owners and Nick discovers that a child may have been murdered there, a malevolent spirit is released among them. At the same time, the dying Geordie relives his brothers death during World War I. Barkers ambiguous use of supernatural elements makes this a suspenseful read, but the books real power lies in her vividly drawn characters, from the guilt-ridden Geordie to Gareth, a lonely little boy made hateful by the knowledge that he is unloved and unwanted.
— Wilda Willams
The New Criterion
...[A] resounding testimony to the breadth and durability of her fictional powers....[W]ritten with all the suspense of a thriller....Pat Barker is capable of getting across a powerful message with the absolute minimum of rhetoric...
Barry Unsworth
The story is told in a terse and vivid present tense....The novel exerts its grip early and, as the strands of its plot come together, past and present show their similarly poisonous fangs....There is a good deal of compassion in Barker's book, but not a lot of hope....a powerful and moving and deeply humane study of the tyranny of the past and the quandaries of the present.
The New York Times Book Review
Gabriele Annan
Starting on a novel by Pat Barker is like boardinga ship. Her urge to say what she has to say throbs like an engine through the narrative, which is peopled by instantly visible characters: bizarre, appealing, pathetic, sometimes menacing. She is unexperimental and unpretentious, a born storyteller but serious...
The New York Review of Books
Bukowski
...[A] suspenseful, sorrowful novel.
The Wall Street Journal
Kirkus Reviews
"Ambivalent relationships" among an embattled extended family whose confusions are mirrored and reshaped by the past are the intriguing matter of this eighth by the Booker-winning British author of, most recently, the Regeneration trilogy.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780312203979
Publisher:
Picador
Publication date:
12/28/2000
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
288
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.70(d)

Read an Excerpt

The questions, discussion topics, and suggested reading list that follow are intended to enhance your group’s reading of Pat Barker’s Another World. We hope they will help focus and direct your discussion of this gripping tale of past and present, memory and loss, by the acclaimed author of the Regeneration trilogy.

During a hazy Newcastle summer, Nick and his pregnant wife, Fran, are battling to keep the peace in their unhappy household. Fran’s eleven-year-old son, Gareth, is showing increasing signs of rage and distress; Nick’s adolescent daughter, Miranda, is cool and affectless. Both are visibly hostile to two-year-old Jasper, their half brother. As the situation begins to slip out of control, the family discovers under the old living-room wallpaper a group portrait of the Fanshawes, who lived in their house, Lob’s Hill, some ninety years earlier. Hate-filled, obscene, deeply disturbing, the portrait reveals the state of the modern family’s own hearts, and casts a terrifying shadow over their lives.

Meanwhile, Nick’s centenarian grandfather, Geordie, lies dying in his home nearby, cared for by Nick and his aunt. As Geordie’s health deteriorates, he becomes more and more mired in the past, obsessively reliving his years in the trenches in the World War I and the violent death met there by his brother, Harry. As events at Lob’s Hill unfold, Nick begins to learn the secrets his grandfather has so long kept buried, and simultaneously to comprehend the reasons for his own family’s misery. He learns the bitter lesson that old wounds can leak insistently into the present, and that tragic events often play out for many years. Powerful, harrowing, and finally cathartic, Another World proves, once again, that Pat Barker is one of the finest novelists of her generation.

What People are saying about this

Alida Becker
[An] eye for the delicate, often puzzling balance of human strength and weakness, both physical and mental, has been at the core of Barker's work from the beginning....Clearly, Barker wants us to think about how the combat of (and with) the past is mirrored in the domestic skirmishes of the present — to consider...:the power of old wounds to leak into the present."
— Interview in The New York Times Book Review, May 16, 1999

Meet the Author

Pat Barker was born in 1943. She is the author of Union Street, Blow your House Down, The Century's Daughter, The Man Who Wasn't There, the Regeneration Trilogy (Regeneration, The Eye in the Door and The Ghost Road), Another World, Border Crossing, Double Vision, and the Life Class Trilogy (Life Class, Toby's Room and Noonday). Pat Barker lives in Durham.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
Durham, England
Date of Birth:
May 8, 1943
Place of Birth:
Thornaby-on-Tees, England
Education:
London School of Economics; Durham University

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