Pat Barker's newest novel takes up a notion of Faulkner's -- that the past isn't over. It isn't even past.
It was William Faulkner who said, “The past isn’t over. It isn’t even past.” Now Pat Barker says it again in “Another World,” her first novel since her great World War I trilogy, “Regeneration.” She says it literally (“Geordie’s past isn’t over. It isn’t even the past”), without even crediting Faulkner, which is kind of cheeky. But she also demonstrates it, using her characters to drive the point home.
Nick, her protagonist, is entrapped in the past in numerous ways. In his second marriage, to Fran, he is dealing with the consequences of his and Fran’s first marriages, each of which produced one child: Fran’s son, Gareth, who lives with them and is showing signs of being seriously disturbed; and Nick’s daughter, Miranda, who as the story begins is coming to stay with them indefinitely. The house the family has just moved into soon reveals itself, through a mural uncovered while stripping wallpaper, to have been the site of another family’s tragedy and possibly of a horrific crime. Finally, Nick loves and feels responsible for his dying grandfather, Geordie, who brought him up.
“Another World” would seem to be a radical shift of focus from “Regeneration,” but there is a World War I connection: Geordie insists he is dying not of cancer but of the bayonet wound he suffered in that war. Hounded by some awful memory, he is thrown back onto the battlefield in his dreams every night. When he confesses to having killed his own brother during a battle, Nick is sure his grandfather has become delusional, and yet he can’t help wondering if it might be true.
These three main elements — Nick’s second marriage and all its complicated step-relationships; the sordid, secret history (complete with ghosts) of Nick’s new home; and the dying Geordie and his confession — all illustrate Barker’s point, but they are otherwise unconnected except through Nick. Unfortunately, that isn’t always enough. Early on, for instance, Nick decides not to divulge the story of the house’s previous occupants to his family. Eventually it fades away, a lost narrative thread that has never quite worked its way into the fabric of the plot.
Barker’s strength, as usual, is in her perfectly calibrated dialogue, as here, in a conversation Gareth initiates with Miranda:
“Are you going to be here all summer?”
“I don’t know.”
“Mum doesn’t want you here.”
“That’s all right, I don’t want to be here.”
“So why are you?”
“My mother’s ill. She’s in hospital.”
“What sort of ill?”
Gareth hesitates, unaware of his ground. “You don’t go into hospital with that.”
“That’s all you know.”
“She’s in the bin.”
“Hospital,” Miranda repeats steadily.
Barker’s work is always interesting, and this novel is no exception. Each of the parallel stories is absorbing, and most of the characters — particularly Nick, Geordie and the children — are skillfully drawn. Still, some overriding connection seems missing, and in the end, the book is smaller than the sum of its parts.
Nan Goldberg's fiction, book reviews, and author profiles regularly appear in the New York Post, the Newark Star-Ledger and other newspapers and magazines. More Nan Goldberg.
More Related Stories
- Fox's new reality TV show threatens regular people with unemployment
- Amanda Bynes arrested after hurling bong from window
- Steamy lesbian-sex movie has Cannes abuzz
- Stop what you're doing and go watch "Borgen"
- Teenage girl claims she was beaten up for looking like Taylor Swift
- Mike Judge: "Bowling for Columbine" made me pro-gun
- New York chef serves up eight-course meal around "Arrested Development" jokes
- HLN: Jodi Arias "pleading for her life" got us a ratings win!
- Michael Ian Black on Maron feud: He "considered me a poseur"
- Chekhov's story mirrors Russia's own
- Pussy Riot member Maria Alyokhina denied parole
- Joe Francis apologizes for calling jury "retarded"
- Mary Karr: David Foster Wallace and I kept each other alive
- Morgan Freeman sleeps during televised interview
- J.J. Abrams reveals deleted shower scene with Benedict Cumberbatch
- Is the anti-gay backlash on?
- Paul McCartney backs Pussy Riot
- Cannes: Ryan Gosling's new movie draws the boo-birds
- Radio host tweets rape joke, blames journalists for reporting on it
- Juror responds to Joe Francis' insults with thoughtful email
- New track from the Lonely Island features Solange Knowles, semicolons
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11