I can honestly say that there is not a shadow doubt in my mind, that this book could possibly have won the Booker Prize. It’s simply that good. Crude in many ways, yet somehow wholesome and immensely powerful and satisfying, it touched me in a way that many books do not. Can not. The Ghost Road was brutally honest about the First World War, not just on the Western Front, but at home as well, for wounded soldiers and civilians alike. I write this review for the entire trilogy; for Regeneration and The Eye in the Door as well, because to write for just one would be to deny the fact that they work together perfectly, to give a heart-breaking account of a life that I cannot comprehend, because it is so far from anything that I have ever had to experience.
I think that I fell in love a little bit, with this world, and with these characters, because although the world was horror and despair, there was always something innately good about the characters. And I felt immensely sorry for them, because I knew that they probably would not leave alive. Wilfred Owen, in particular, because I knew the history.
As I said earlier, parts of it were crude, but I cannot fault Barker for this, because it gave the books a realism, making the characters human and, if not entirely relatable, it made them possible. It sounds like a strange compliment, but it’s true. Having possible characters is something that writers aspire towards, and to manage it is a huge accomplishment. It can be all too easy to just focus on one side of a character, or else to focus on too many, turning your character into ten dodecahedrons glued together, and then it doesn’t matter how good the plot is, you will not properly relate. You will not feel the heart-wrenching pain of knowing that a person is going to their death, because they are not a person, they are a character, and you can’t see them as anything more realistic than that.
This was different. To me, Billy Prior and Sarah were real, and breathing, and I loved them; Hettie and Beattie existed outside the pages of the book; Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon were more than just poets. They were real, and I cannot offer any complement higher than that.
The brutality shocked me at times, with graphic descriptions of war, and of shell-shock treatment, but it worked. If a book does not make you feel, then what is the point of the book? It cannot entertain, if you feel nothing. It cannot teach, if there are no emotions to learn through. It cannot mean anything, if there is not deeper meaning than that which is explicitly stated. I don’t think that it is a feeling I shall ever forget, that tugging in my chest as I read the final, heart-rending pages of The Ghost Road. I don’t think that it is a feeling that I ever want to forget.