After finishing Lamb, I began reading Cloud Atlas, a book Sonika has insisted I must read as soon as possible. But Cloud Atlas is long and dense, and however rewarding it is going to be, I felt the need for a quick knockout book. So I picked up Another World, by Pat Barker, a book I’ve had on my shelves for years but not read, as I’m trying to focus on “those books” right now.
I loved Pat Barker’s Regeneration trilogy. All three books are amazing works regarding the First World War, which is a topic Barker continues to explore in Another World, her first novel post-Regeneration. However, Another World isn’t set during World War I, but instead modern day England (it was written in 1998), focusing on Nick and his grandfather, Geordie, who is 101 and a veteran of WWI.
Nick’s got a hell of a home life going on, with his cranky pregnant second wife, 2-year-old son, and two near-teenagers, each from first marriages. Nick’s family has just moved into a new house, and when uncovering the wallpaper in the living room, they unearth a creepy family portrait of previous residents and immediately recognize the commonalities: a father, a mother, a young toddler, an older boy and even older girl. This gets even creepier once Nick does some research and realizes that the toddler was found murdered with the two older children as suspects, and there are parallels drawn between these contentious sibling relationships and Geordie’s with his brother, Harry, who did not survive the war.
In reading this book, a line from Anne Michaels’ Fugitive Pieces kept going through my mind: ‘I know why we bury our dead and mark the stone, with the heaviest, most permanent thing we can think of: because the dead are everywhere but the ground.’
The ghosts are everywhere in this book: Geordie often sees Harry in his nightmares, especially as he moves increasingly closer to death; Geordie thinks he’s dying of his long-healed bayonet wound instead of cancer; a long-haired girl wanders around Nick’s new home; and all of the characters are constantly tripping over their memories, which do not seem only of the past but the present as well. The three family units (Nick and Geordie, Nick’s family at home, and the Fanshawes- the previous family in the house) have things that they have never moved on from whether it be the war or the breakup of domestic households.
In the end, I have to say I appreciate this book more upon reflecting on it. Barker does not offer hope or answers, and instead I was left to think of the questions and worries she pokes at, namely: what does it mean to have your past become your future- not because it is repeating itself, but because it has, in fact, never ended?