Double Vision

Double Vision is the tenth novel by the Booker Prize-winning Pat Barker, author of the much-praised Regeneration trilogy and like the trilogy, this work is profoundly concerned with the ripple affects of war. The Persian Gulf War, Bosnia and the trial of Slobodan Milosevic, Afghanistan, and the World Trade Center collapse are present throughout as grim complements to the grim Newcastle winter of the present before it slowly gives way to a hopeful spring in this taut short novel.

Two off-stage figures dominate the background, the great Spanish painter Francisco de Goya, who provides the epigraph (“One cannot look at this. I saw it. This is the truth”) and whose “Disasters of War” is frequently invoked, and the English photographer Ben Frobisher, husband of Kate and friend of Stephen Sharkey, recently killed in Afghanistan. The stories of the two survivors are interwoven, though they’re not close friends. Both must attempt to carry through their projects of sculpting and writing in the face of their loss.

Kate’s difficulties are the greater, given her relationship with her spooky assistant Peter Wingrave. He, readers learn, is an ex- offender who as a boy killed an old woman and who has published frightening stories of domination and murder. He even secretly puts on Kate’s clothes in an eerie night scene and pretends to be her working on the sculpture, yet uncannily this aids her in completing it. Hence the Double Vision of the title. Sharkey is burdened by nightmares of war, especially a vision of a dead raped girl in Sarajevo, but his increasing intimacy with the vicar’s daughter eventually exorcises them.

Both protagonists come through the grim winter of their respective war traumas in this tight intense novel cunningly structured around a series of parallels—Asperger’s disease, white vans, rose buds, binding of victims. Though readers get closure, Barker deliberately leaves a number of loose ends and unanswered questions.