Composite Person

Alex Clark

  • Border Crossing by Pat Barker
    Viking, 216 pp, £16.99, April 2001, ISBN 0 670 87841 3

In the Regeneration trilogy, Pat Barker distilled the trauma and drama of the First World War into a series of minutely observed pairings between the neurologist William Rivers and his severely shellshocked charges. The most famous of them is Siegfried Sassoon, who was sent to a psychiatric hospital after he issued a public declaration against the continuation of the war. But much more striking is Billy Prior, who advances stealthily through the trilogy, beginning as a mute casualty and ending as its central and most articulate character. His sexuality ambiguous, his attitude towards the authority of generals, doctors and civilians by turns contemptuous and reluctantly admiring, his motives a painful mixture of self-interest and dutiful rigour, Prior is Barker’s most compelling creation.

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