The Ghost Road is the last part of a trilogy about World War One, I’ve not read the first two but decided to jump straight in with number 3. It’s set in the final months of the war and follows the lives of two main characters, Dr River and Billy Prior.
The novel portrays the sad senselessness felt by soldiers fighting the remaining days and weeks of war knowing the end is coming but still having to fight and give their lives.
Dr Rivers, one of the key characters is a doctor treating shell shocked and injured soldiers in England, using sometimes unorthodox methods to try and return them to full health. This narrative is interspersed with vivid memories of living in a remote tribe and cuts interchangeably back and forth, the ‘well’ doctors mind seeming more confused and troubled than that of some of the patients he’s treating.
In addition to Dr Rivers, the key character is Billy Prior an officer from a working class background who’s treated by Rivers early on before returning to France despite concern for his welfare and the offer of a desk job. The novel touches on a number of taboo subjects for the time, homosexuality being a key one – with Prior seeking out men for sexual acts having just left his fiancée.
The book felt short, but I also didn’t feel like it needed to go on for much longer. I wonder if I’d feel differently about it had I read the first two novels in the trilogy and if it would seem like a more complete story being told.
This book, along with many others I’ve read about war time, and in particular ww1 reinforce the devastation and damage done to a whole generation of young men in fighting and witnessing the horrors of war. Having studied WW1 literature for A Level English Literature the references to Sassoon and Owen and felt familiar and knowing their poetry reinforced the themes coming from this novel.
“In trench time he was old. A generation lasted six months, less than that on the Somme, barely twelve weeks”
Billy Prior on the number of poets in his camp
“I think it’s a way of claiming immunity. First person narrators can’t die.”