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From Barnes & NobleThe 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