Books March 2001

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In her ninth novel Pat Barker, who searingly depicted World War I and its psychological casualties in the Regeneration trilogy, again explores the uses—and the illusions—of professional detachment along with the question of whether the rational can cope with the ugliest of realities. Much as she sculpted her trenches with bones sticking out of the mud and corpses propping up walls, in Border Crossing she evokes the smoke, the staleness, and the insecurity of probation offices and remand centers. As the protagonist, Tom Seymour, a psychiatrist, teases out the history of his patient Danny (or is Danny doing all the teasing?), Barker creates a sense of menace worthy of Ian McEwan.

Barker has far more faith in drama and image than in assertion. The reader is grateful whenever she offers any alleviating comedy. When Tom visits Danny's old writing teacher, he is forced to attend a mortifying literary evening: "Expecting a literary lion (male), obliged to make do with one small tabby cat (female), the groupies sank deeper into the sofa, a single, disgruntled heap." One character in Regeneration says with a laugh, "You want perception, you go to a novelist, not a psychiatrist." Border Crossing is replete with sharp, expressive exchanges, hard poetry, and as many enigmas as implacable truths.

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