Pat Barker

Pat Barker was born in Yorkshire in 1953.  She was brought up by her grandparents and despite having a tough home life she secured a place at grammar school aged 11 and never looked back. 

Her blunt and direct style of writing, along with her unflinching way of dealing with themes of memory, trauma, survival and recovery have found her a place amongst the most loved and popular authors of our time. 

She is well-known for her Regeneration trilogy set in World War 1 and her books have won many awards. She has an unflinching eye and does not turn her gaze from uncomfortable truths. In her latest novel, The Silence of the Girls, she reveals the misogyny of ancient Greece and its resonance for modern times. Pat Barker is also a featured author in the September theme of Conflict and Crime for the BBC Novels That Shaped Our World. The film Stanley and Iris starring Robert de Niro was loosely based on her first novel, Union Street 

“She was educated at the London School of Economics, where she read International History, and at Durham University. She taught History and Politics until 1982. She began to write in her mid-twenties and was encouraged to pursue her career as a writer by the novelist Angela Carter. Her early novels dealt with the harsh lives of working-class women living in the north of England. Her first book, Union Street (1982) won the Fawcett Society Book Prize.  Her second, Blow Your House Down (1984), was adapted for the stage by Sarah Daniels in 1994. The Century’s Daughter (re-published as Liza’s England in 1996) was published in 1986, followed by The Man Who Wasn’t There in 1989. 

In 1983 she was named as one of the 20 ‘Best Young British Novelists’ in a promotion run by the Book Marketing Council and Granta magazine. Her trilogy of novels about the First World War, which began with Regeneration in 1991, was partly inspired by her grandfather’s experiences fighting in the trenches in France. Regeneration was made into a film in 1997 starring Jonathan Pryce and James Wilby. The Eye in the Door (1993), the second novel in the trilogy, won the Guardian Fiction Prize, and The Ghost Road (1995), the final novel in the series, won the Booker Prize for Fiction. Another World (1998), although set in contemporary Newcastle, is overshadowed by the memories of an old man who fought in the First World War. 

Her novel Border Crossing (2001) describes the relationship between a child psychologist and a young man convicted of murder 13 years earlier. Double Vision (2003) concerns the atrocity of war and two men who are caught up in its shadow. 

Pat Barker was awarded a CBE in 2000. Her latest novels are Life Class (2007), Toby’s Room (2012), returning to the First World War, Noonday (2015) and The Silence of the Girls (2018).” (From Britishcouncil.org.) 

Another person’s life, observed from the outside, always has a shape and definition that one’s own life lacks.

Pat Barker

The Man Who Wasn’t There

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Twelve-year-old Colin knows little about his father except that he must have fought in the war. His mother, totally absorbed by the nightclub where she works, says nothing about him, and Colin turns to films for images of what his father might have been. Weaving in and out of Colin’s real life, his imagined film explores issues of loyalty and betrayal and searches for the answer to the question ‘What is a man?’

Regeneration

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Craiglockhart War Hospital, Scotland, 1917, and army psychiatrist William Rivers is treating shell-shocked soldiers. Under his care are the poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, as well as mute Billy Prior, who is only able to communicate by means of pencil and paper. Rivers’s job is to make the men in his charge healthy enough to fight. Yet the closer he gets to mending his patients’ minds the harder becomes every decision to send them back to the horrors of the front. Pat Barker’s Regeneration is the classic exploration of how the traumas of war brutalised a generation of young men.

The Eye in the Door

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It is 1918, and Prior is in London working as an intelligence officer. His concern is the enemy within – though a clear definition of who exactly the enemy is proves harder to come by than he might have imagined.

Ghost Road

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This book challenges our assumptions about relationships between the classes, doctors and patients, men and women, and men and men. It completes the author’s exploration of the First World War, and is a timeless depiction of humanity in extremis.

Border Crossing

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When Tom Seymour, a child psychologist, plunges into a river to save a young man from drowning, he unwittingly reopens a chapter from his past he’d hoped to forget. For Tom already knows Danny Miller. When Danny was ten Tom helped imprison him for the killing of an old woman. Now out of prison with a new identity, Danny has some questions – questions he thinks only Tom can answer. Reluctantly, Tom is drawn back into Danny’s world – a place where the border between good and evil, innocence and guilt is blurred and confused. But when Danny’s demands on Tim become extreme, Tom wonders whether he has crossed a line of his own – and in crossing it, can he ever go back?

Double Vision

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Insomnia, exhaustion, recurring nightmares. Stephen Sharkey is suffering the after effects of his career as a war reporter, most recently in Afghanistan, where Ben Frobisher, war photographer and friend, has been shot dead on assignment. Hanging up his flak jacket and turning his back on the everyday reality of war, Stephen moves into a quiet and peaceful cottage in the north of England. It seems the perfect environment in which to write his book on the representations of war, one that will be based largely on Ben Frobisher’s work. But Stephen’s supposed isolation offers no protection from other people’s suffering or the shattering effects of human brutality.

Life Class

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When war breaks out in 1914, Paul Tarrant, a student at the Slade School of Art, leaves behind his attempted life as an artist and his beautiful fellow-student Elinor to tend to casualties on the front line.

Toby’s Room

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Toby and Elinor, brother and sister, friends and confidants, are sharers of a dark secret, carried from the summer of 1912 into the battlefields of France and wartime London in 1917.

Noonday

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Paul Tarrant, Elinor Brooke and Kit Neville first met in 1914 at the Slade School of Art, before their generation lost hope, faith and much else besides on the battlefields of Ypres and the Somme. Now it is 1940, they are middle-aged, and another war has begun. London is a haunted city. Some have even turned to séances in an attempt to contact lost loved ones. As the bombs fall and Elinor and the others struggle to survive, old temptations and obsessions return, and all of them are forced to make choices about what they really want.

The Silence of the Girls

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When her city falls to the Greeks, Briseis’s old life is shattered. She is transformed from queen to captive, from free woman to slave, awarded to the god-like warrior Achilles as a prize of war. And she’s not alone. On the same day, and on many others in the course of a long and bitter war, innumerable women have been wrested from their homes and flung to the fighters. The Trojan War is known as a man’s story: a quarrel between men over a woman, stolen from her home and spirited across the sea. But what of the other women in this story, silenced by history? What words did they speak when alone with each other, in the laundry, at the loom, when laying out the dead?

Half the world’s work is done by hopeless neurotics

Pat Barker, The Eye in the Door

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