The Ghost Road is the third and final novel in the series of anti-war novels known collectively as "The Regeneration Trilogy". Written by acclaimed British author Pat Barker,it is both a historical novel and a book that shows how life can be both comedic and tragic at the same time. All three novels take place during World War One in both England and on the battlefields of France, between 1914 and 1918. They illustrate the horror of the war and she's light on the devastation caused to the lives of the men at the front line, while also showing that although there was a war on, much of the tragedy in these lives was caused by their personal lives away from the battlefield.
The Ghost Road, like Regeneration and The Eye in the Door before it, follows main characters Billy Prior, who is fictional, and cured of shell shock by famous psychologist Dr William Rivers, a real-life figure whose pioneering work during the war illuminated the damage that war inflicts on the psyche. Rivers treated war poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, but little is known about his private life which gives Barker the ability to create a rich and embellished fictional life without altering the historical facts about his work. Wilfred Owen has just returned to the battlefields of France in this novel and Billy Prior is eager to join him as the war enters a furious and ferocious final phase in late summer 1918. This desire troubles Dr Rivers who suffers a personal and ethical dilemma, knowing that on one hand he is benefitting these men greatly by restoring their mental health but knowing also that in doing so he is sending them back to the treacherous battlefields where there is a strong possibility they will be killed in action.
Prior returns to France in time to join the "final push" intended to both achieve victory and justify the senseless loss of British life that has led to this point. Through the eyes of Wilfred Owen, the author gives the reader a drastically poetic view of the war which both reports the historical facts of the war and highlights its utter futility. Barker herself is anti-war and this stance is more obvious in this novel than in the preceding two. We also learn more about the characters' experiences in life before the war and the way in which these experiences have shaped their opinion of it.
This is Pat Barker's seventh novel and until penning "The Regeneration Trilogy" her previous four novels had been themed around the lives of women in the north of England, an historically working class area. Although the theme of this book is predominantly war and its effects, the theme of working class struggle is still a central one as the main characters hail from class backgrounds that are polemically opposed and in the middle, Billy Prior, a "temporary gentleman" who has been promoted to officer status, has a class war going on within himself. The novel also discusses homosexuality and the emergence of the discovery of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The Ghost Road was published to great acclaim and went on to win the Booker Prize in1995. Barker's subsequent novels stayed in the 1914-18 time period and include "Art Class" and "Toby's Room".