Book review: Double Vision

Pat BarkerThis is different from a lot of the war fiction by Pat Barker in that it deals with the aftermath of war rather than life during war. Double Vision is set in Barker’s NE England, with both countryside and city drawn clearly.

War reporter Stephen Sharkey returns to the NE to stay in his brother’s isolated holiday cottage, he has resigned his job and plans to write a book. It seems idyllic, peaceful, but his dreams are full of war memories, particularly the body of a girl discovered in a Sarajevo ruin, raped and murdered. Kate Frobisher, widow of Sharkey’s war photographer colleague Ben, is a sculptor. She is struggling too, with being alone, and with injuries sustained in a car accident. Kate’s progress with the sculpture of a man, with the deadline looming, forms the spine of this novel.

This is not a love story in that there is no romance but it is a story about the love of family, of community, of responsibility. And it is also about the opposite of love: hate, as done to the girl in that Sarajevo ruin. The horrors that man does to man, in wartime and ordinary time, and whether forgiveness and love can redeem those horrors.

Barker populates her story with a tightly-drawn circle of characters, puts them into relationships, then mixes things up. Kate cannot physically cope with the work required to sculpt and so hires a man to do the heavy lifting, a man recommended by the local vicar Alec. Justine, the sister of the local vicar, is a part-time nanny for Sharkey’s nephew, she and Sharkey become lovers. Then there is Stephen’s brother Robert and his wife Beth, on the outside their life in a beautiful country house seems beautiful. But is it? And who is Peter, the gardener/labourer who becomes Kate’s assistant, who seems to lurk quietly in the background.

There is a tension underlying this story but it is not a thriller, there is not a murderer lurking in the shadows, but Barker makes you want to read on, to find out what happens to these people. I love Pat Barker’s writing, she has a minimal style which reminds me of Hemingway. She seems incapable of writing an unnecessary word. Here’s one small example: ‘His sleep was threadbare, like cheap curtains letting in too much light.’ I know just what she means.

For my reviews of other Pat Barker novels, click here:-
Another World
Life Class #1
Toby’s Room #2
Noonday #3

For other post-war novels, try:-
‘Casting Off’ by Elizabeth Jane Howard
‘The Aftermath’ by Rhidian Brook
‘The Little Red Chairs’ by Edna O’Brien

‘Double Vision’ by Pat Barker [UK: Penguin] Buy at Amazon

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DOUBLE VISION by Pat Barker http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1VJ #bookreview by @SandraDanby