‘Craiglockhart War Hospital, Scotland, 1917, where army psychiatrist William Rivers is treating shell-shocked soldiers. Under his care are the poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, as well as mute Billy Prior, who is only able to communicate by means of pencil and paper. River’s job is to make the men in his charge healthy enough to fight. Yet the closer he gets to mending his patients’ minds, the harder becomes every decision to send them back to the horrors of the front…’
I was assigned to read this book over the summer as we are studying it next year as part of my English Literature A-Level course. To be completely honest, I wasn’t really looking forward to reading this book as the war isn’t anything id chose to read. However, to my complete surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and read it in under 2 days.
With having family in the army and having such respect for soldiers to go out everyday and risk their lives, I became extremely involved with this book and the characters, and felt an emotional attachment to them almost immediately.
Although at first, the book was a little hard to follow with it constantly switching between different people and their points of views, it wasn’t a particularly difficult read. Maybe a little harder than some I have read before, but it didn’t matter to me as I was too drawn into the story to even care.
The psychiatrist, William Rivers, to me, is a brilliant character. With him also being a victim of the traumas WW1 brought to many young men, he was both emotionally and professionally involved with each of his patients. He is a very clever man, who has a huge amount of patience when it comes to dealing to those in his care to build on this, always tries to do what is best for them even if it does take a vast amount of time and effort. You can really tell he feels for these injured soldiers and does want to absolute best for them.
I know I shouldn’t have favorites but I’m afraid in this case I do have one. His name is Billy Prior.
Due a terrible incident in the trenches, he suffers from terrible nightmares and make him scream in the night and causes him to become a mute for some part of the book. When he first met Rivers, he had such a sass about him which I instantly fell in love with and just felt a need for him to be protected at all cost. Throughout the book, I found myself hoping and wishing he didn’t get better so he didn’t have to be sent back and risk being killed. He also suffers from severe asthma which also makes him vulnerable. At one point he meets a girl called Sarah who works in a factory making detonators. She, herself has suffered from the war after losing her fiancée whilst he was fighting. Sarah is perfect for Billy in my eyes. Shes extremely supportive, kind and accepts Billy for who he is.
The two poets in the book are Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen. Sassoon is ultimately the second main character in the book with most events that don’t include other soldiers being about him. He got called off duty hoping to be court-marshaled. He suffered from hallucinations and nightmares. Despite this, Rivers found no indication that he was mentally or physically unable to go back to duty. Although Sassoon was completely against the war and made this very clear on several occasions, he thought it was his duty to his men that he should return to fight. Whilst spending time in Craiglockhart, he befriended fellow poet and patient, Wilfred Owen. Owen suffers form an extreme stutter and nightmares himself. However, he is a keen poet and learns a lot from Sassoon who he sees as some kind of idol.
The book is jam-packed with heart-wrenching stories of soldiers who were mentally and physically affected by the war. Men who mentally can’t walk anymore and men who had lost all of their limbs. It truly is a horrific, yet brilliant story that will have you constantly fighting back tears and make a bubble of anger slowly rise in you for those people who allowed the horrors of war to go on for so long. But, despite this, there are moments throughout that you just cant help but smile at. Moments where the patients get to see their loved ones again or find someone new like Billy and Sarah.
A beautifully written book that captivates you into the story and leaves you wanting more.
May those who fought bravely in the war, rest in peace.