Last CBR, I read Pat Barker’s excellent Regeneration and loved it. I wanted to see how her second book in the trilogy, The Eye in the Door, stacked up. As it turns out, even better than the first one.
After Dr. Rivers has spent time working with poet Siegfried Sassoon, The Eye in the Door focuses largely on the recovery efforts of Billy Prior, particularly in his investigation of a murder by poison plot of a former neighbor. Here, we learn about the conscientious objectors and anti-war sentiments pervading WWI England. Barker introduces some interesting contradictions, because after reading about the horribly traumatic mental and psychological injuries suffered by war veterans, it makes sense to morally object to the war. And yet the pervading patriotic sentiment causes men like Prior to work for the government in order to protect their skins, even as they fight “for” a war that they don’t really believe in.
Another pervading theme is the “eye in the door,” which could pertain to the governmental surveillance of its objectors, or of the moral sense pervading the country which eclipses all deviant sexual behavior. As with Regeneration, repressed homosexuality finds itself a major subplot of the novel, particularly in the way homosocial relationships are configured between men.
I’ll hold off judgment on the trilogy till I finish, but so far, I like it a lot. Historical fiction is not my bag, but Barker plots WWI in a way that is relatable and highly engaging. I’d even venture to say that I like this way better than Hilary Mantel’s series on Henry VIII, because it’s more concisely crafted and tightly plotted. It’s a thought-provoking and engaging read, and I’d urge you to give the trilogy a read.