I just returned from a much needed week at the Beach House. We had a wonderful time; I think I’ve perfected the art of the pumpkin pie, my dog and I had magnificantly joyous walks along the surf, and I was able to catch up on some reading. It has been a trying period for my family and this Thanksgiving was a healing and a regeneration of sorts…
Some time back I caught part of the film adaptation of Pat Barker’s Regeneration on cable – it came out while I was overseas - otherwise it would have definitely been on my radar. Actually, i'm surprised I never picked up on the books. I was quite excited about the concept and was looking forward to reading the series – in fact, I even gushed about it to my grandmother while she was in the later stages of hospice. I’m sorry it has taken me this long to get around to reading the trilogy – Regeneration, The Eye in the Door, and The Ghost Road – and I especially regret it’s too late to share the experience with her. My grandmother and I always enjoyed these kind of sprawling literary feats together – Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet and the Avignon Quintet, Olivia Manning’s The Balkan Trilogy, and John Galsworthy’s The Forsythe Saga come immediately to mind. And certainly there are shared elements in the Regeneration trilogy with the work of Michael Ondaajte (The English Patient) and Milan Kundera (The Unbearable Lightness…).
Man, I really wish I could share my recent journey with Pat Barker’s masterpiece with my grandmother- I devoured all three books in a day and a half. The film treatment of Regeneration pales tremendously with the scope of the source. We could have endless discussions. There is no greater pleasure than immersing oneself into a body of literary work.
At any rate, the trilogy takes place during World War I and revolves around real-life figures, poets Siegfried Sassoon (who figures prominently in the first volume) and Wilfred Owen (who is more like a tangent or point of reference in the series) and psychiatrist and anthropologist William Rivers. The most memorable and developed character is the fictional Billy Prior, who is indelibly created by Barker and takes us through all three volumes. The first volume is set at Craiglockhart Hospital in Scotland, where British officers were sent to recuperate from shell-shock before being sent back out on the front lines. I really can’t do these books justice in a blog entry – Barker examines psychology, class, gender, and the neuroses and futitlity of war in a highly poignant and relevant way. In light of current events, The Regeneration Trilogy should be on every student’s reading list. It’s funny, in high school, the War Poets were always my favorites (besides e.e.cummings and Dorothy Parker) but, at the same time, All Quiet on the Western Front filled me with horror (I even got nightmares) – The Regeneration Trilogy manages to bridge all that for me. Highly, enthusiastically recommended. If only I could find the three-volume bound edition here in the United States, because otherwise I’d be gifting everyone this for the holidays.
Oh, I also saw Walk the Line, the Johnny Cash biopic. I’ve been a huge Cash fan all my life and I think the producers did a fair job in their treatment. Although the film veered drearily towards the made-for-TV movie genre at times and the structure was highly schematic and some of the clichés made me want to choke, the pace was invigorated by rousing performances by Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon. Especially during the rollicking musical numbers, where the chemistry was sparking off the screen. Phoenix’s hangdog appeal, inherent awkward sensitivity and overall earnestness would make the late Cash proud. Witherspoon, who I thought was perfect as Becky Sharp in Mira Nair's adaption of Thackerly's Vanity Fair, has yet to shake that “not a girl/not yet woman” vibe that she shares with the equally talented and pigeon-holed Drew Barrymore, but I do believe she did June Carter justice, and, who knows, we might have a latent Sally Field. Haha, I do think the film underplayed the fire-and-brimstone religiosity of the Carter Family and Cash after his conversion – it was hinted at during the detox scene I guess – when the Carters stave off Cash’s dealer at rifle-point; friends of mine who have met the couple in recent years were unprepared for and a bit put off by the aggressiveness of their convictions. Anyways, Walk the Line is a heartfelt love story and the music rocks.