Book Club: Fargate from the Madding Crowd

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For the day before Armistice Day, i have chosen Pat Barker’s First World War classic regeneration.

For the day before Armistice Day, I have chosen Pat Barker’s First World War classic Regeneration.

Regeneration is set in 1917, and mixes fiction and historical fact to tell the story of war hero and poet Seigfried Sassoon’s ‘Soldier’s Declaration’ protesting against the continuation of the war.

Sassoon is diagnosed with shell-shock, and sent to psychiatrist William Rivers at Craiglockhart Hospital for treatment. So far, so historically accurate. Once there, we sit alongside Rivers and a number of his patients, both real and fictitious, as they relive horrific moments from the war to delve into the reasons behind their psychological damage.

Our comparatively luxurious and safe life in 2016 Britain means these events feel so very far away, particularly now there is almost nobody living who remembers them first hand. The importance of Regeneration, and books like it, is that they go some way towards making the unimaginable imaginable. Fiction, when it is as well-written as this, has the power to make us vicariously experience these events that happened generations ago.

I have heard this book described as an anti-war novel, but I’m not sure that’s true. Barker is just as vivid on the good intentions and spectacular bravery, as she is on the slaughter on a vast scale.

Anna Caig

Anna Caig

She successfully portrays the complexity, and the validity, of views on both sides of the debate.

The thing I found most impressive is the way she brings real historical figures to life. Rivers, as well as the trio of war poets Sassoon, Wilfred Owen and Robert Graves, feature heavily. Lewis Carroll even pops up at one point. But Barker’s writing has an authority, and a calm authenticity that means it stops short of ever feeling shoehorned. She successfully pulls off a masterclass in beautiful characterisation, and lets the horror and drama of the events speak for themselves.

At only 250 pages long, the book is packed with action. I haven’t even mentioned the exploration of several of the men’s sexuality, or the lively depictions of the women working in Edinburgh’s munitions factories – Scotland’s answer to Sheffield’s Women of Steel. But the pace feels gentle. It’s only when you look up from the pages that you realise you’ve absorbed so much.

We will remember them.

And through books like this, we will understand them a little bit better too.

Reader’s Review: What did you make oF the last read oF the Fortnight Graeme Macrae Burnet’s His Bloody Project?

Eddie in central Sheffield says: It’s an unusual thing to find myself enjoying a novel but not really liking it, but that was my experience with His Bloody Project.

It has an unnerving feel, similar to Iain Banks’ The Wasp Factory, and as a narrative Macrae Burnet’s tale fair rattles along.

It is interestingly set, both historically and geographically.

It is well crafted and it certainly has enough drama, murder and suspense to keep any reader involved.

But, from the preface onwards, the overt nature of the novel as an exercise in meta-fiction becomes distracting.

It is too self-aware, too obviously ‘smart Alec’.

I felt so openly invited to understand the novel as all clever invention with – at its core ‘document’ – a wholly unreliable narrator (with very clear signals to say so), that I found myself so distracted and busy looking for clever clues, I was left with no sense of him – Roderick – as anything more than literary device.

The result is, I think, a fine story (a murder mystery with no mystery, so the lack of mystery becomes the mystery, I suppose) but not one I much cared anything about.

Too clever by half, I think you might say.

Reyt as Rain Reads... books to make it better

Sarah in Hoyland says: I am a wife and mother of one small person with a very, very busy life.

I cherish the short periods of time I get to read (usually on my journey to and from work) when I do I like a good thriller with twists and turns a plenty!

Can you recommend something that will keep me interested and encourage me to make time to read more often?

Anna says: You need a book that is going to keep you gripped while you’re surrounded by activity, noise and distractions on the bus or train.

My first recommendation is a book so absorbing that it’s one of only two I’ve ever read that I could genuinely, and entirely literally, describe as unputdownable.

It is Mario Puzo’s The Godfather.

I know Coppola’s adaptation of this tale of the Sicilian mafia in the New York is widely considered to be one of the best films of all time (my husband pretends it is his favourite, but after a drink or two will admit that this honour actually goes to Naked Gun 2½.)

But the book is even better. I read this years ago while on holiday, lying on a beach, and was so engrossed in the story that I yelled at the book at one point, to the alarm of my fellow holiday-makers. It is so, so good.

My second recommendation is from one of my favourite writers of all time, Stephen King.

I spent my teenage years scaring myself silly with his horror books, but my recommendation to you is one of his science fiction thrillers.

The Running Man is the story of a desperate man taking part in a hugely popular but deadly game show where contestants win one billion dollars if they manage to evade ‘the Hunters’ and stay alive for 30 days.

It shouldn’t give you the heebie-jeebies, but it will definitely keep you hooked.

It also has the benefit of being structured in lots of short chapters, perfect for commute-size chunks.

The only trouble with these two corkers will be forcing yourself to close the book again when you get to work.

Get in touch with your recommendation for Sarah.