Barker, Pat. Another World. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1999. Summary
: Nick's centenarian grandfather is dying at last, and, riven with guilt over the death of his brother, his death is a torment. Meanwhile, Nick's new family's center is barely holding. While redoing their living room, they uncover an obscene Victorian portrait, and the dark history and rumors overshadowing the previous owners of their house are shown to echo the tensions of the present. In each of the three narrative threads of this magnificent novel--two pasts and a present--sibling tries to kill sibling. Comments
: WOW. What is there to say about this amazing novel? Besides "Just read it!", that is? Well, it combines the "feminine" domestic fiction of Pat Barker's early endeavors with the "masculine" war fiction of her critically-acclaimed Regeneration Trilogy
, and this succinct, compact little novel reads like a sucker punch to the gut. Indeed, the intellectual weight is flimsy in comparison to its emotional heft; you don't need to work rationally through the myriad of issues about familial relationships and the trauma of war/history that Barker treats in order to intuit the underlying trajectory of the story: that memories of violence and jealousy, both personal and collective, can distort and influence the present. The past doesn't merely repeat itself whole-cloth; it condenses and magnifies certain issues.
Written in spare yet evocative prose, nothing seems overly hurried, despite its relative textual brevity. The large cast of characters are all instantly distinguishable in their banal torments, and, despite the fact that absolutely none of them are particularly admirable, you feel their impotent anger right along with them. There were a couple of times where I genuinely hoped that Gareth would succeed in killing his little half-brother Jasper, for example. Or that maybe Fran should do it instead. Ultimately, though, you realize that they're not wholly culpable for their own actions; the zeitgeist has been egging them along all along. Though the sort of domestic violence the novel portrays seems a bit trite in this age of terrorist bombings and religious extremism, it was written in the age of my coming of age, where paranoid peace-time movies like The Matrix
and middle-class horrors like the Columbine shootings loomed large in the Western world's conscience. It's timely. And, besides, it's hard to argue with the overaching thesis--the inexorable forces of history are just that powerful. Notes
: hardcover, first edition, 1st printing; first published in the UK in 1998 Rating
- For those who've not yet read anything by Pat Barker, start with this novel...and if she gets any better than this in the future, she deserves to go down in history as one of England's greatest novelists.