World War One, a speciality of Pat Barker, is present in every page of this tale of war veteran 101-year old Geordie, living through his final days with his grandson Nick. Woven through Geordie’s story are the threads of Nick’s life, his extended family involving wife, step son and half-siblings. In the modern day there are tensions between siblings, as there were between Geordie and his brother.
Pat Barker is an author who does not flinch from showing the human reactions that in real life we prefer to hide: sibling jealousy, sibling hate and underlying it all, selfishness. How these emotions affect this family, from 101-year old Geordie to his great-grandson Jasper, a toddler, is fascinating and often a difficult read.
A sideline from the main story is the life of the family who lived in the house where Nick has just moved with pregnant wife Fran, Fran’s son Gareth, and Fran and Nick’s son Jasper. Also visiting is Miranda, Nick’s daughter. I said the family ties were twisted. Tidying an overgrown rose on the wall of the house, Nick unveils a plaque labelled ‘Fanshawe’. This is the name of the family who lived in this house, Fanshawe made his money from armaments. When parents and children strip wallpaper off the walls, they unveil a portrait of a family. Is it the Fanshawes, or is it them? And so Barker introduces the ghostly strand with uncanny echoes between then and now.
This is a slim volume, read quickly, but not so quickly as to miss the delicacy of Barker’s writing. Here is Nick on his grandfather: ‘Nick feels he’s never known him, not because they’ve been distant from each other – far from it – but because they’ve been too close. It’s like seeing somebody an inch away, so that if you were asked to describe them you could probably manage to recall nothing more distinctive than the size of the pores in their nose.’
A slim volume with such acute observations about human nature, Another World makes you feel uncomfortable and ask questions of yourself. I read every novel Barker writes. Her ‘Regeneration’ trilogy, including the 1995 Booker Prize-winning The Ghost Road, is a must.
‘Another World’ by Pat Barker [UK: Penguin] Buy at Amazon
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