Sex and Dominance in The Ghost Road

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Sex and Dominance in The Ghost Road

Pat Barker's The Ghost Road is a masterful literary integration of sex and war. The novel's protagonist, the lascivious, bisexual Billy Prior once remarks: "Whole bloody western front's a wanker's paradise," a statement with far-reaching implications concerning aggression and eroticism (Barker 177). The novel concludes a successful trilogy, beginning with Regeneration (1991) and The Eye in the Door (1993). Winner of the prestigious Booker Prize Award in 1995, The Ghost Road delves into many standard Booker motifs, such as war, the British class system, memory, and childhood, but Barker revitalizes these worn subjects. With prostitutes, lecherous priests, and the naked body, she intersects the motifs of sex and dominance. Homoeroticism, pedophilia, and prostitution deepen the dark hues of her narrative, fleshing out what might otherwise have been a tired war novel. It is at the intersection of sex, dominance and gender that The Ghost Road earns its place among the Booker greats.

In the first scenes of the novel, Barker mixes militarism and homoeroticism. Just before entering the office of the medical examiner, Prior is passed by "a squad of men in singlets and shorts...bare thighs streaked with mud, steam rising from sweaty chests, glazed eyes, slack mouths, as they pounded and panted" (Barker 8). The sexualized body of the male soldier will return throughout the novel, especially as seen through the lustful eyes of our sexually ambiguous protagonist.

In the medical examining room, Doctor Mather immediately commands Prior: "drop your drawers. Bend over." Prior's internal monologue sarcastically remarks, "They always went for the arse, Prior thought,...

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Barker, Pat. The Eye In the Door. New York: Dutton, 1994

Norton, Rictor. My Dear Boy: Gay Love Letters through the Centuries. San Francisco: Leyland, 1997.

Ribeiro, Alvaro. "The Booker Book: The Culture Of Prize Novels.", December 16, 2001.

i[i] Italics added for emphasis.

ii[ii] "Cherry" 5c. Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition 1989. OED online 12 December 2001.

iii[iii] Booker prize blows her cover. Sunday Telegraph, 12 November 1995: 3.

iv[iv] As quoted by in a lecture on Sigmund Freud, available at, 12 December 2001.

v[v] Italics in original.

vi[vi] Norton, Rictor. My Dear Boy: Gay Love Letters through the Centuries. San Francisco: Leyland, 1997.

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