For all her appealingly flowing and unfussy prose, Pat Barker's novels have always contained a good measure of unconventional wisdom, the untried and true. Subtly rendered and rarely belabored, the Booker Prize winner has tackled, with distinctive execution and startling candor, such subjects as mental illness, child rape, homosexuality, murder by minors, pacifism and war.
Double Vision is about war and the ravages of violence on the human mind — but with a provocative twist, visceral and thought-inducing. Barker's 10th novel offers a fresh take on the aftermath of 9/11 and, along with fighting in Afghanistan and the war crimes in Bosnia, explores the toll such carnage and conflict takes on her characters and on us all. In considering consequent thoughts and feelings — justifiable indignation and pangs of conscience, individual and social implications — the British author couches personal and outward struggles in an escapist, idyllic setting where the front lines emerge only in vivid memory.
The tensions under analysis recall Barker's previous novels that deal with or touch upon war, including the highly regarded World War I-era Regeneration trilogy of the early 1990s and more recent works. But Double Vision raises other frank questions and issues concerning the potentially distorting selectivity and influence of war reporting and photojournalism, inquiries and issues very much in keeping with Barker's history-based and psychology-steeped considerations of societal and human complexity.
Whatever complications await, the main action gets under way as nerve-racked journalist Stephen Sharkey, unwilling to "spend the rest of my life trotting off to other people's wars," wraps up yet another dangerous assignment in a war-torn region and also witnesses the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center — on the same day as the breakup of his marriage.
Seeking refuge, Stephen moves into a quiet cottage on the property of his brother in the north of England, a seemingly perfect retreat in which to write his book about "the way wars are represented." It will be a book largely based on the works of his friend and colleague Ben Frobisher, a war photographer shot dead by a sniper in Afghanistan.
In the course of getting to work and gaining access to Ben's photos, Stephen befriends Ben's widow, Kate, a sculptor who lives close by and who was recently injured in a car accident, hindering her ability — until she reluctantly hires mysterious loner Peter Wingrave — to complete a 15-foot sculpture of Christ commissioned by a local church. Stephen also begins an affair with his autistic nephew's nanny, Cambridge-bound Justine, 20 years his junior, who is also daughter of the local vicar, and ex-girlfriend of Peter.