Double Vision by Pat Barker

1 year ago Joy Jennings Comments Off on Double Vision by Pat Barker

Book Title: Double Vision

Author: Pat Barker


Pat Barker’s most recent novel Double Vision is a keenly observed, frequently unsettling exploration of the secrets and memories receding behind the carefully constructed personas of the characters who occupy an unidentified region of rural English countryside. The landscape itself, in the midst of a harsh winter and bearing the brutal stains of a recent foot and mouth cull, becomes a powerful literary mirror for the interior lives of the primary characters Stephen Sharky and Kate Frobisher. Barker’s writing creates a humidity of tension which gradually condensates into a palpable weight looming above the sedate though troubled lives of Stephen and Kate. The background details which inform this mysterious tension coruscate intermittently through Barker’s shadowy portrait of daily lives that have been marred by sorrow. These shards of revelation about the characters and their pasts are thrilling and keep the novel engaging and energetic even at times when the plot moves slowly.


Stephen and Kate are both grappling to rebuild their lives after the sudden death of their respective professional partner and marriage partner Ben Frobisher, who was shot during an assignment as a correspondent in the Middle East. Stephen, a sardonic but good natured foreign correspondent in the grip of mid-life crises, moved to the country after resigning his job and negotiating a divorce from his long adulterous wife. The unlikely love-affair with the neighboring nineteen-year-old au-pair which comes to dominate Stephen’s story is sexy and charismatic in its initial carnality, and increasingly tender and touching as affections unconsciously burrow deeper. Where Stephen’s life learns to bloom with the hope and passion of new love, Kate’s life, a subsidiary channel of narrative, has been permanently emptied of warmth and vigor by the death of her much adored companion. The split-structure of the novel which attempts to juggle the narratives of both Stephen and Kate works reasonably well, but is not equitable in the amount of attention apportioned out to each character. Though Stephen comes to dominate the novel, he seems as a character rather less of an intriguing study than the guarded and eccentric artist Kate in combination with her sinister artistic assistant Peter Windgrave, who is truly one of the dramatic highlights of the novel despite the limited space given to explore the dark recesses of his character.


Barker’s novel has a distinctly lingering, reflective tone, dappled throughout with evocative metaphors about the landscape and acute descriptions of the mannerisms and speech patterns of its characters. The thoughtful reader will enjoy the meditative whirlpools that constantly tug one deeper into the profound philosophical moodiness of Double Vision. Sometimes, however, this apparent desire of Barker’s part to present her novel as literary and philosophical tends to feel too contrived and inconsistent in light of the novel’s essential psychological core. This is for instance the case with most of the sections devoted to discussions about the ethical dilemmas associated with war correspondence which provide awkward and pretentious segues into conversations about the life and art of Francisco Goya. In the end Barker’s Double Vision seems to bite off a bit more than it can realistically chew. The flurry of dread and foreboding the Barker seems fond of teasing out in her readers is left disconcertingly unresolved in the action. Despite its clumsiness at times, Double Vision remains a highly interesting, engaging, and provocative read; good writing, good characters, and a good attempt at something a bit different.


Double Vision is a Picador Book represented in Australia by Pan Macmillan Australia.

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