Cover image for Double vision
Double vision
Barker, Pat.
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First American edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, [2003]

Physical Description:
258 pages ; 22 cm
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A gripping novel about the effects of violence on the journalists and artists who have dedicated themselves to representing it In the aftermath of September 11, reeling from the effects of reporting from New York City, two British journalists, a writer, Stephen Sharkey, and a photographer, Ben Frobisher, part ways. Stephen, facing the almost simultaneous discovery that his wife is having an affair, returns to England shattered; he divorces and quits his job. Ben returns to his vocation. He follows the war on terror to Afghanistan and is killed. Stephen retreats to a cottage in the country to write a book about violence, and what he sees as the reporting journalist's or photographer's complicity in it; it is a book that will build in large part on Ben's writing and photography. Ben's widow, Kate, a sculptor, lives nearby, and as she and Stephen learn about each other their world speedily shrinks, in pleasing but also disturbing ways; Stephen's maid, with whom he has begun an affair, was once lovers with Kate's new studio assistant, an odd local man named Peter. As these connections become clear, Peter's strange behavior around Stephen and Kate begins to take on threatening implications. The sinister events that take place in this small town, so far from the theaters of war Stephen has retreated from, will force him to act instinctively, violently, and to face his most painful revelations about himself.

Author Notes

Pat Barker's most recent novel is Another World (FSG, 1999). She is also the author of the highly acclaimed Regeneration trilogy: Regeneration; The Eye in the Door, winner of the 1993 Guardian Fiction Prize; and The Ghost Road, winner of the 1996 Booker Prize. She lives in England.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

One doesn't often find the caliber of writing displayed in Barker's latest, a compulsively readable novel whose lofty themes include the costs of being emotionally vulnerable and the role of art in dangerous times. Seemingly effortlessly, Barker creates a charged atmosphere of heightened emotions and physical danger as she immerses readers in the world of grieving widow Kate Frosbisher. Her husband, Ben, a photojournalist, has been killed in Afghanistan, and she knows with implacable certainty that she will never recover from this loss; she can only try to learn to live with it. Her husband's partner, Stephen Sharkey, is also mourning Ben's death but has been doubly devastated upon learning of his wife's adultery. When Stephen settles into a cottage in the British countryside near Kate, they learn that the comforts of a rural retreat can be illusory after an accident, a robbery, and a beating shatter their attempts to heal. Barker herself denies readers the comfort of a tidy plot resolution, intentionally underscoring the chaos that lurks just beneath the civilized veneer of modern life. --Joanne Wilkinson Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

The quaint English village of Barker's 10th novel is a world away from the wars in Bosnia, Afghanistan and elsewhere that have scarred its main characters, but the specter of violence still looms. Kate Frobisher, a sculptor working on a monumental figure of Jesus, is recovering from a car accident and grieving for her husband, Ben, a war photographer killed in Afghanistan. Stephen Sharkey, a journalist (and friend of Ben's) suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome after covering Bosnia, Rwanda and other conflicts, has left London and a failed marriage to write a book about "the way wars are represented." An ensemble cast gathers around these two haunted figures: Stephen's brother Robert and his family; Alec Braithewaite, the friendly vicar, and his Cambridge-bound daughter Justine; and Peter Wingrave, Kate's studio assistant and Justine's ex. A predictable mix of domestic drama (the Sharkeys' marital woes, a romance between Stephen and Justine) plays out against the backdrop of current events, but the real theme of this insightful, harrowing novel is violence: its impact on victims, but also on those who witness it and those who tell the tale. As Barker's characters are forced to acknowledge, aggression and brutality are close at hand. And Barker spares no unsettling effect animals are turned into bloody heaps of roadkill; Kate grows paranoid about solitary Peter; Justine is the victim of a terrible beating. The effect of such unrelenting darkness is to render the story less dramatic and convincing, but this is still a gripping novel, noteworthy for the author's gifts as a stylist and her formidable, engaged intelligence. (Dec.) Forecast: Barker's fictional take on the psychological costs of contemporary warfare bests other recent efforts (Michael Ignatieff's Charlie Johnson in the Flames [Forecasts, Sept. 15]; Gil Courtemanche, A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali [Forecasts, Sept. 8]), and should benefit by association with Barker's brilliant evocation of WWI in her popular Regeneration Trilogy. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

British journalist Stephen Sharkey has just watched the Twin Towers fall when he discovers that his wife has been unfaithful. He returns home to divorce proceedings while his partner, photographer Ben Frobisher, heads to Afghanistan and dies capturing an eerie image of abandoned tanks. A shaken Stephen heads to the country to live on the property of his brother and sister-in-law, themselves tension-ridden; there he befriends Ben's widow, Kate, a sculptor struggling after a devastating car accident to complete a massive figure of Christ, while launching a gentle affair with his nephew's teenaged nanny. Oh yes, and there's something definitely unsettling about Kate's new assistant, formerly the nanny's boyfriend. This may all sound too neat, but it's not. In effortless prose as sharp and polished as new frost, Barker (Border Crossing) shows how tightly bound we are and how our actions reverberate; every step is fraught with consequence. Over the proceedings hangs a painful question: Can-and should-art attempt to capture the depths of human tragedy? Barker herself leaves the question open, but if you read her new novel, you'll say yes. Highly recommended.-Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal" (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Excerpt from Double Vision by Pat Barker. Copyright (c) 2003 by Pat Barker. To be published in December, 2003 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved. 1 CHRISTMAS WAS OVER. Feeling a shame-faced pleasure in the restoration of normality, Kate stripped the tree of lights and decorations, cut off the main branches and dragged the trunk down to the compost heap at the bottom of the garden. There she stood looking back at the house, empty again now-her mother and sister had left the morning after Boxing Day-seeing the lighted windows and reflected firelight almost as if she were a stranger, shut out. A few specks of cold rain found her eyelids and mouth. All around her the forest waited, humped in silence. Shivering, she ran back up the lawn. Gradually she re-established her routine. Up early, across to the studio by eight, five hours' unbroken work that generally left her knackered for the rest of the day, though she forced herself to walk for an hour or two in the afternoons. The weather turned colder, until one day, returning from her walk, she noticed that the big puddle immediately outside her front gate was filmed with ice, like a cataract dulling the pupil of an eye. She heated a bowl of soup, built up the fire and huddled over it, while outside the temperature dropped, steadily, hour by hour, until a solitary brown oak leaf detaching itself from the tree fell onto the frost-hard ground with a crackle that echoed through the whole forest. People had glutted themselves on food and sociability over Christmas and New Year and wanted their own firesides, so the first few evenings of January were spent alone. But then Lorna and Michael Bradley asked her to their anniversary party and, though she was enjoying the almost monastic rhythm of her present life, she accepted. Since Ben's death that had been her only rule: to refuse no invitation, to acknowledge and return any small act of kindness-and it was working, she was getting through, she was surviving. Once there, she enjoyed the evening, in spite of having restricted herself to just two glasses of wine, and by eleven was driving back along the forest road, her headlights revealing the pale trunks of beech trees, muscled like athletes stripped off for a race. She was leaving a stretch of deciduous forest and entering Forestry Commission land, acres of closely planted trees, rank upon rank of them, a green army marching down the hill. Her headlights scarcely pierced the darkness between the pines, though here and there she glimpsed a tangle of dead wood and debris on the forest floor. She kept the windows closed, a fug of warmth and music sealing her off from the outside world. The lighted car travelled along the road between the thickly crowding trees like a blood corpuscle passing along a vein. Somewhere in the heart of the wood an antlered head turned to watch her pass. Almost no traffic-she overtook a white van near the crossroads, but after that saw no other cars. The road dipped and rose, and then, no more than 400 yards from her home, where a stream overflowing in the recent heavy rains had run across the road forming a stick of black ice, the car left the road. There was no time to think. Trees loomed up, leapt towards her, branches shattered the windscreen, clawed at her eyes and throat. A crash and tearing of metal, then silence, except for the tinny beat of the music that kept on playing. One headlight shone at a strange angle, probing the thick resin-smelling branches that had caught and netted the car. She lay, drifting in and out of consciousness, aware that she mustn't try to move her head and neck. She knew she was injured, perhaps seriously, though she felt little pain as long as she kept still. Saliva dribbled from the corner of her mouth, blood settled in one eye. After what seemed a long time she heard the noise of an engine. Her own wrecked car filled with shifting parallelograms of light and shade as the other car's headlights swept across it. The engine was switched off, footsteps rang clear on the road, slurred across the grass verge, and then a figure appeared at the window. A headless figure was all she could see, since he didn't bend to look in. She tried to speak, but only a croak came out. He didn't move, didn't open the door, didn't check to see how she was, didn't ring or go for help. Just stood there, breathing. She tried to lift her head, but a spasm of pain shot down her spine and she knew she mustn't move. Slowly she slipped into unconsciousness, fighting all the way, then battled her way back to the surface, where now there were other voices, frightened voices-frightened of her, of what she'd become. 'Ambulance,' she heard. 'Police.' Then the familiar sound of somebody thumbing numbers into a mobile phone, and at last she was able to let go and accept the dark. * * * In something too high, too tight, for a bed. White sheets pinned her legs down. Walls the colour of putty. Mum's voice, then Alice's, but she knew they couldn't be here, they'd left the day after Boxing Day, and so she refused to acknowledge them, these phantom relatives, and concentrated instead on getting some spit going in her mouth. Her tongue felt swollen, and was so dry it stuck to the roof of her mouth. 'Look,' said Alice. 'She wants a drink.' Her mother's head came between her and the tight. 'Dead to the world. Can't hear a word you're saying.' 'Oh, I don't know. They always say, don't they, "Keep talking"? You never know how much gets through.' Was she dying? Couldn't persuade herself it mattered much. Water ... Alice's scent, sharp and sweet. A spout pushed between her lips, jarred her teeth. Water, too much water, gagged, choked, spout pulled away, reinserted, gentler now, and she glugged, once, twice. Dribbles ran down the side of her neck, were dabbed away on a cold flannel. She stared at the cracks in the ceiling, only to find them replaced, almost immediately, by her mother's and her sister's heads. 'Do you think she can hear us?' Mum said. She has been somewhere else. She remembers the trees, the dark road, the branches pushing through broken glass, the man by the window, breathing. But then it all begins to fade. She tried to turn her head and couldn't. Some kind of brace round her neck stopped her moving. Her right arm was swaddled against her side by the tight sheet. She could feel her arms, and her legs, and her toes. She wiggled them to make sure, remembering how her father, right at the end of his long illness, after the stroke, had hated the arm he couldn't feel and kept pushing it away from him. At least she wasn't like that. It all still belonged to her, this barren plain she looked down on from the height of her raised head, this fenland under its covering of snow. She started to drift off again, heard her mother say, 'We're only tiring her. I think we'd better go and let her sleep.' * * * Somebody had sent roses. She opened her eyes and there they were, tight, formal, dark red buds, like drops of blood in the white room, but her eyelids were too heavy to go on looking, and when she opened them again the roses were gone. 0* * * As soon as she could support herself, they got her out of bed and made her sit in the armchair beside it. Her feet were cold. She was depressed, worried about the work she wasn't doing. She'd taken on a big commission, a huge Christ for the cathedral, it should have been well on the way by now, and yet here she was, stuck in an armchair like an old woman, unable to move, helpless. The physiotherapist came to see her, and then she started regular sessions in the physiotherapy room, where she stared in the floor-to-ceiling mirrors at the necldess creature she'd become. 'Very good,' the uniformed girls kept saying. 'Very good.' She hadn't been spoken to in such jolly, patronizing tones since she was in nappies. She smiled, desperation simmering under the surface. Back on the ward, she set off down the corridor clinging to the rail, forcing herself to keep walking, though each step sent twinges of pain up her spine. Now and then she met another patient, similarly handicapped, head on, and then they'd pause, assess the extent of each other's disability, and decide, silently, which of them was better able to let go of the rail and stand unsupported while the other shuffled past. So much courage. So much decency. She was humbled by it. But then it was back to the ward. Her room overlooked a courtyard where even evergreen plants, deprived of light, sickened and died. 'I've got to get out of here,' she said, when Alec Braithewaite, the local vicar and also a friend, came to see her. He took a step backwards, raising his hands, pretending to be knocked over by her urgency. 'Good morning, Kate.' She sighed, accepting the reproof. 'Good morning, Alec.' 'How are you? ' 'Going mad.' He came and sat beside the bed. 'Nobody likes hospitals. The main thing is to get better.' 'The "main thing" is the Christ.' He smiled. 'I'm pleased to hear you say so.' 'You know what I mean, Alec. My Christ.' 'Can you lift your arm?' She tried, as she tried a hundred times a day. 'No.' 'When does it have to be finished?' 'May. In time for Founders' and Benefactors' Day.' 'That's not too bad.' 'Alec, it's a massive figure. It's barely enough time if I were all right.' 'Can't you negotiate another date?' 'I've never missed a deadline in my life.' She sat brooding, her chin sunk into the padded collar. She looked broken, Alec thought, as he'd never seen her before, not even in the first weeks after Ben's death. 'Then you're going to need help.' 'I don't want an assistant.' 'Other sculptors use them, don't they?' 'Yes.' He leaned forward. 'So what don't you like about them?' 'Where to start? For one thing, they're always art students, and they keep on asking questions. "Why did you do that? Why didn't you do the other?" And even if they don't ask, you can hear them thinking it. Nine times out of ten it just turns into a tutorial. I know it sounds terribly ungenerous, and I do-I do actually like teaching, but I don't want to do it when I'm working.' 'Does it have to be an art student?' 'It's the obvious pot to dip into.' He shrugged. 'Depends what you want.' 'All I want is somebody strong enough to rift, who isn't ... too interested in what I'm doing.' 'Hmm,' he said. 'Bit of bored beefcake?' She refused to rise to him. 'Doesn't have to be a man. I do all the lifting normally.' 'Do you remember the lad who used to do the churchyard after we lost the sheep?' A hazy memory of a young man wielding a scythe in the long grass between the headstones. 'Vaguely.' 'He's very reliable, and he builds patios and walls and things like that, so he must be fairly good with his hands. And I shouldn't think he's got a lot of work on at the moment. I know he was hoping to get a job in the timber yard, but I think that fell through. They're very quiet at the moment. Shall I see if he's available?' 'That's not a bad idea, actually. What's his name?' 'Peter Wingrave. I'll give him a ring, shall I?' He looked down at her, noticing the fines of tension around her eyes and mouth. What he thought she needed at this moment was faith, but he couldn't say that. She'd come to church once or twice after Ben's funeral, but only to show her appreciation of a difficult job well done. A youngish man, a violent death. It's not easy in such circumstances to know what to say, particularly to a congregation of atheists and agnostics up from London on cheap day-returns. Kate made no secret of her lack of belief. He did wonder what she'd be able to make of this commission, but then he thought that the risen Christ was, among many other things, a half-naked man in his early thirties, and Kate did male nudes very well indeed. 'How's Justine?' Kate asked, making an effort to set her own problems aside. Alec's face brightened, as it always did at any mention of his daughter. 'Much better.' Justine had been due to go to Cambridge last October, but in September had gone down with glandular fever and had to ask for her place to be deferred for a year. She'd been at a loose end ever since, mooching round the house, lonely and depressed. Alec had been quite worried about her, but now, he said, she'd got herself a little job as an au pair, twenty hours a week, and that gave her some pocket-money, and, even more important, a framework for the day. 'The Sharkeys. You know them? Their little boy.' 'Oh, yes. Adam, isn't it?' 'Anyway,' he said, hearing the rattle of cutlery in the corridor outside, 'I think I'd better be off and leave you to your lunch.' He bent to kiss her, and she grasped his hand. 'I'll have a word with Peter as soon as I can.' The doors swinging shut behind him let in a smell of hot gravy and custard. She never felt hungry, though when food was put in front of her she ate it all. She knew she had to build up her strength. As she ate, she thought about Alec, who was an odd person to find in charge of a rural parish. He'd written several books on ethical issues raised by modern genetics and by developments in reproductive medicine, including one on therapeutic cloning that Robert Sharkey described as the most level-headed discussion of the topic he'd encountered. And he did a lot of work with released prisoners, battered wives, drug addicts, even converting part of his own house to give them somewhere to stay. No, he was a good man, though she didn't personally see that his goodness had much to do with his religion. And he had another claim on her affection: Ben had always liked him. li0 After the pudding-apple crumble indistinguishable from cement-she heaved herself out of the chair and started again on the long walk to the top of the corridor. Winter sunshine streaming in through the tall windows created a grainy shadow that almost seemed to mock her efforts as she edged and shuffled along. Her walking was getting better, but she'd gladly have crawled around on her bum for the rest of her days if only she'd been able to raise her right arm above her head. At night she lies awake, worrying about the Christ, her fingers aching for the scarred handle of her mallet, as her body aches for Ben, a cold hollow inside. She tucks her knees up to her chin, consciously foetal, but the position puts too much pressure on her spine and she has to straighten out again and lie on her back like an effigy. She remembers going into the church at Chillingham with Ben, turning the corner into a side chapel, finding Lord and Lady Grey together on their slab. Excerpted from Double Vision: A Novel by Pat Barker All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.