Posts Tagged ‘pat barker’

The Silence of the Girls was shortlisted for the 2019 Women’s Prize, and the women’s prize is one that still interests me – hence the Women’s Prize project which I have started (not done that brilliantly though). However, this title was one that I felt rather unsure about – on the one hand I really like Pat Barker’s writing, having loved both war trilogies and two or three stand-alone novels. However, I have absolutely no interest in the ancient world, and novels retelling Greek myths have never really appealed. I was left a little underwhelmed by The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood (who I generally like very much) and have pretty much avoided all the other similar ones. Like The Penelopiad though, The Silence of the Girls was chosen by my very small book group and as it was on my Women’s Prize list too I really had no excuse – and so it was one of the books I took away with me last week.

The novel is a retelling of The Iliad from the point of view of the women whose voices are never heard, the premise is certainly an attractive one, especially for those who love the classics. Barker writes so well, she is quite masterly at setting her scene – be in WW1 trenches, London of the Second World war or an ancient Greek encampment.

I had expected the novel to be quite rapey and violent – and there is certainly some of that, though Barker doesn’t dwell on things that her characters clearly accept as being what always happens to women. She doesn’t allow our twenty-first century sensibilities to get in the way, though she also shows that the women of her story are aware on some level of the inequalities and contradictions of their world. However, these are women who don’t try to change things, they don’t try to fight – there is no point.

“We’re going to survive–our songs, our stories. They’ll never be able to forget us. Decades after the last man who fought at Troy is dead, their sons will remember the songs their Trojan mothers sang to them. We’ll be in their dreams–and in their worst nightmares too.”

After the Greek Queen Helen is carried off by the Trojans the Greeks set sail in pursuit, besieging the city of Troy with their fighters. The women of Troy shelter in a citadel, with them is Queen Briseis, who watches as her husband and brothers are murdered along with virtually every other man in Troy. A few women jump from the top of the citadel – knowing what is to come, they decide they want nothing of it. I don’t wonder! Unbeknownst to everyone, there are just ten weeks to go before the fall of Troy. The fate of the Trojan women is grim indeed – rounded up by the Greek soldiers, taken back to their camp, enslaved, voiceless, to be passed around, the spoils of war.

Briseis, is given to Achilles as a prize, condemned to be bed-slave to the man who slayed her family. She accepts her fate, knowing it could have actually been worse. Achilles the son of a mortal and a goddess, famed and feared in equal measure, a great warrior and a deeply troubled soul.

“Great Achilles. Brilliant Achilles, shining Achilles, godlike Achilles . . . How the epithets pile up.
We never called him any of those things; we called him ‘the butcher’.”

There are thousands of Trojan women slaves in the Greek camp, nursing the wounded, working in the laundry, laying out the dead, providing sport for soldiers’ miles from home. It is the stories of these women Barker tells, mainly from the perspective of Briseis; former queen and slave. Serving meals to Achilles and his men, Briseis is almost invisible – marking time until she is called to his bed. One man, Achille’s closes friend sees Briseis as human, Patroclus’ simple human kindness and sympathy and her solitary walks on the beach seem to keep her sane, as she longs for her homeland.

“I listened and let it soothe me, that ceaseless ebb and flow, the crash of the breaking waves, the grating sigh of its retreat. It was like lying on the chest of somebody who loves you, somebody you know you can trust—though the sea loves nobody and can never be trusted.” 

Barker has proved before that she understands the psychology of war, the impact it has on fighting men – the idea of collateral damage. She understands the feelings of conqueror and the conquered – of the freeman and the slave. Pat Barker writes with a thorough understanding of human beings and conflict.

“Yes, the death of young men in battle is a tragedy – I’d lost four brothers, I didn’t need anybody to tell me that. A tragedy worthy of any number of laments – but theirs is not the worst fate. I looked at Andromache, who’d have to live the rest of her amputated life as a slave, and I thought: We need a new song.”

Briseis is the prize that Achilles won, and like a petulant child clinging to a favourite toy, he regards her as his special, hard won gift. So, when Briseis becomes the subject of a bitter dispute between Achilles and Agamemnon, everyone in camp feels the tension ratcheting up.

In the end I enjoyed Barker’s writing very much as I expected to – the story she tells is compelling and brilliantly imagined. However, with my not really loving the whole ancient world thing – I didn’t love The Silence of the Girls – I found the fate of the women really rather depressing too at times. I can fully appreciate and applaud what Pat Barker’s achieved with this novel – it just won’t be my favourite of hers. My book group meets next week – and I am really looking forward to finding out what the others thought.

Read Full Post »


Another world

One thing that A Century of Books is doing for me, is making me read books I have had for some time and might otherwise have continued to overlook. Another World was the only book I had to fill my 1998 slot, and I have enjoyed a lot of Barker novels before – particularly her two war trilogies – which I think are outstanding.

In Another World, Pat Barker takes us back to the First World War, only in the fractured memories of Geordie, a proud veteran of the Somme. It is the late 1990s and Geordie at 101 is one of the last remaining WW1 veterans left – Geordie is dying now, those around him know he doesn’t have much time left, and his dying is painful and difficult. Geordie has always been a resilient character, he’s lived a long life, but it is only now, as his days start running down that he becomes haunted by the horrors of the trenches and the loss of his brother. In the past Geordie didn’t talk about the war, he didn’t join the parades for remembrance, and would silently wear his poppy just one day a year without comment. Now the war is back with Geordie – the memories of that long-ago conflict troubling his sleep.

Geordie’s grandson Nick has recently moved into a late Victorian house with his second wife Fran, Fran’s son Gareth and her and Nick’s toddler Jasper. With Nick’s ex-wife having been sectioned recently, his thirteen-year-old daughter Miranda is coming to stay – Fran is heavily pregnant with their second child – and the household is anything but harmonious. Gareth is a surly, difficult eleven-year-old – spending hours playing on computer games and quietly seething in hatred toward everyone. Miranda has learned to hide her feelings, yet she is no happier than Gareth – any plans Nick had to harmonise this step-family – we soon see might not be that easy. From Fran’s point of view – it doesn’t help that Nick is running off to see Geordie most days either.

Trying to engage everybody in a project, Fran suggests a decorating party and they all start stripping the wallpaper from the living room wall. Slowly a disturbing mural is revealed, the portraits of the Fanshawe family who first lived in the house when it was built- a portrait with some disturbing additions.

“At the centre of the group, uncovered last, is a small fair-haired boy, whose outstretched arms, one podgy fist resting on the knee of either parent, forms the base-line of the composition. Patches of wallpaper still cling to the painting like scabs of chicken pox, but even so its power is clear. Victorian paterfamilias, wife and children: two sons, a daughter. Pinned out, exhibited. Even without the exposed penis, the meticulously delineated and hated breasts, you’d have sensed the tension in this family, with the golden-haired toddler at its dark centre.”

So, when Miranda declares ‘it’s us’ we sense immediately the collective shudder – and wonder – whether she could be right. There are ghostly sightings of a young girl in and around the house too, and despite everything else he has going on, Nick becomes fascinated in the dark and murderous history of the Fanshawe family. Fanshawe snr made his money from armaments – while the war destroyed men like Geordie and his brother – it made men like Fanshawe.

Meanwhile Geordie is moved briefly into hospital – where he insists to the doctors that it his old bayonet wound is the trouble. He seems to like the idea that the old wound is what’s killing him, when he knows perfectly well that it is cancer. Geordie’s daughter – Nick’s aunt – is always on hand – but Geordie forgets that Frieda is herself well over 70 – and running back and forth to Geordie’s house, and the hospital is taking its toll.

“They make the journey to the bathroom in slow stages. So much effort to get to the side of the bed, so much to push the red shiny, scaly legs and feet into the slippers which Nick places ready for him. Then a rest before the slow shuffle along the ward, Nick at his rear bunching up the smock behind him like a bridesmaid holding up the bride’s train, concealing Granddad’s lean and pleated arse from the gaze of passing nancies.”

Barker questions the concept of memory – we see the war from an entirely different angle, through the distorting lens of time and memory. The oral histories that Geordie has recorded for a University colleague of Nick’s are brought out, as Nick tries to understand the vulnerable old man he has always had a special connection to.

Pat Barker is not one to shy away from difficult storylines – and here she combines the memories of WW1 – with sibling rivalries, even sibling hatred and the truly horrible things that children can be capable of. The past encroaches on the present for every generation, everywhere there are echoes of the past.

Another World is hugely readable – filled with Barker’s astute observations and brilliant understanding of the psychology of families.

Read Full Post »


In the past I have loved Pat Barker’s two war trilogies – The Regeneration Trilogy and the trilogy which began with Life Class. I also enjoyed some years ago a novel called Border Crossing. Liza’s England is an early Barker novel from 1986 – although it was then entitled A Century’s Daughter (a little bit Catherine Cookson that title for me) and so I do prefer the title was selected for this 1990’s VMC edition. Liza’s England; while it doesn’t quite have the depth or scope of either of Barker’s war trilogies it does concern itself with several of the themes of those novels. The effects of war – mental health and familial relationships, set against a landscape of change; Liza’s England is the story of a woman born on the stroke of midnight at the dawn of the twentieth century.

Walker Street; somewhere in the North East of England, Liza Jarrett is now in her eighties – the same age as the century to the very minute, and she has a fragile newspaper cutting to prove it. She lives in the house she moved to in 1922 with her war damaged, spiritualist husband and young son. Now the houses on the other side of the street have been pulled down, replaced by high rise flats – and now Liza’s side of the street is condemned too. Undaunted Liza intends to remain in the house filled with the voices and memories of her life, despite being the sole remaining inhabitant in a street destined for demolition. Living entirely downstairs as she can no longer manage the stairs – Liza is content with the company of Nelson a parrot she adopted in 1967 when the pub where it lived closed down, and her precious box of mementoes close by. Mrs Jubb – a home help comes in more hours than she is actually paid for, and the three rub along ok in far from ideal conditions.

“He saw how time had moulded, almost gouged out, the sockets of her eyes, how two deep lines of force had been cut into the skin between nose and lip, how the hand that came up to grasp the scarlet shawl was brown-speckled, claw-like, but finely made. He saw, too, that her neck was grained with dirt, that there was dirt in the lines of her face, that the scarlet shawl was stained with parrot shit. None of this mattered. Like a rock that wind and sea have worked on since the beginning of time, she needed to apologize for nothing, explain nothing.”

Liza is visited by Stephen, a young, gay social worker – somewhat disenchanted with the work he has done in the past – he now splits his time between disaffected youth on sprawling housing estates and an advice centre. Stephen needs to try and persuade Liza of the benefits of moving to a retirement maisonette – where she will be safer. As the two get to know one another over subsequent visits, Liza learns slowly to trust her new friend, she shares with him the stories of her life, and Stephen tells Liza about his own. Stephen’s partner is in America and he carries the letters he sends inside his jacket pocket missing him, as he makes his home in a flat that was once part of a grand house – where Liza’s mother skivvied before the First World War. In the family home where Stephen hasn’t lived for years, his father is dying, and Stephen finds himself living again in his old bedroom now feeling both familiar and strange.

Liza’s life was a hard one, born into a large working class family – she never felt loved by her mother – although she had adored her father. The stories of Liza’s life take us to a crowded tenement home before the First World War, and the munitions factories of the war where servant girls rub shoulders with upper class daughters doing their bit. After the war Liza marries Frank Wright, a young man damaged by the war – he has turned his hand to spiritualism, speaking in the voices of the young men he grew up with, served alongside and watched die. A few years into her marriage, with one young son, and a husband whose behaviour is increasingly erratic, Liza moves into the house where Stephen finds her sixty years later. Liza becomes a key figure in this community – her neighbour Mrs Dobbin who along with the midwife is attendant at the birth of both Liza’s daughter and granddaughter.

“Walker Street got off lightly: all the other houses destroyed were empty. Stunned people came and looked at the wreckage, moving around the fallen timbers like ghosts or scavenging in a haphazard way for their possessions, but at least, with the exception of Mr Bower, there were no dead to mourn.
The rest of Tom’s leave was spent helping to clear up. With so much rush and confusion Liza had no time to dread his going. Only at the station she thought: This may be the last time I see him.
As the train pulled away, she wrenched herself out of Eileen’s grasp and ran along beside it. On the other side of the glass were khaki shadows, thin as reflections in water. One of them leaned forward and pressed his hand against the glass. Then a cloud of smoke and steam blew across the platform and hid him from her sight.”

In time war comes to the country again, and Liza watches her son Tom, so reminiscent of her darling brother Edward, heading off to war, while Liza remains behind with her difficult, chaotic daughter Eileen. Eileen is destined to make some poor choices in her life – and Liza takes on the parenting of her granddaughter Kath.

Now Liza can’t imagine being anywhere else, she imagines she can still hear Mrs Dobbin rattling the grate on the other side of their shared wall – but Mrs Dobbin is long dead – and one else is living on the other side of the wall. Stephen is drawn to Liza’s stories – and in an attempt to help her move on – he persuades her to allow him to take her out and to see the changed industrial landscape by the river.

“The wind keened across the brown land, and it seemed to Liza that it lamented vanished communities, scattered families, extinguished fires. Mourned the men who’d crowded to the ferry boat, at each and every change of shift, their boots striking sparks from the cobbles as they ran.
She saw her father among them, and his voice echoed down the road that was no longer a road. Ginger-black, afraid of nobody. Men spilling out of the pubs to watch him race”

Throughout her long, hard life Liza has shown strength, good sense and humour, her loyalty to her family, neighbours and community has been unwavering and in her last lone battle she will need every bit of strength she has.

Liza’s England is one of those books I have had on my shelf an age – and I no longer remember where I got it. It reminds me of two things – one to drag down the books I have had years more often – and to ensure that I read everything Pat Barker has written.

pat barker

Read Full Post »


Noonday is the third book in Pat Barker’s second war trilogy – which began with Life Class and Toby’s Room. The first two novels followed three young artists in the years immediately before, during and after the First World War. In Noonday we meet these characters again in middle age as bombs rain down on England during the autumn of 1940. I particularly loved Toby’s Room; although ridiculously I had forgotten the very end – and had to look it up on Wikipedia (wiki is great for spoiler littered plot summaries). However, I think Noonday would stand up perfectly well on its own, but I do think my reading was enhanced by having read and enjoyed the first two volumes.

Elinor Brooke (still using her maiden name professionally) is married to Paul Tarrant, they haven’t had children and as the novel begins Elinor is staying in the country with her sister Rachel, while their mother is dying. Rachel (critical and traditional as ever) and her husband have an evacuee Kenny from London staying with them, although have done little to make him feel welcome. Kenny feels particularly drawn to Paul, the one person who has shown him sympathy, so when during one of Paul’s visits, and following a particularly bad raid over London, Kenny begs him to take him home to find his mother. It seems already, even as early into the war as 1940 people were bringing their children home in large numbers. Paul helps Kenny find his mother, among the bomb damage and chaos of the East End, worrying whether he has done the right thing exposing the boy to such risk.

“Kenny looked around him. ‘it’s all gone’
Paul opened his mouth, but had no idea what to say. He was about to suggest that Kenny should come back inside the house, when at the far end of the street, they saw a woman walking towards them with a baby in her arms. Kenny ran towards her shouting, ‘Mam! Mam!’ she stopped, but then came on no more quickly. Her clothes were black and torn, her face blackened too. She might even be burnt, Paul thought. At any rate she’d lost her eyebrows. She looked dully at Kenny. ‘Oh it’s you.’”

london blitzBack in London Elinor is working as an ambulance driver, alongside her old friend Kit Neville, with whom relations have been a little strained since Elinor’s brother’s death in WW1. In the years since then Kit married Elinor’s best friend and spent several years in America before his divorce. With Paul working as an air raid warden, the three are well placed to view the daily devastation, loss and horror of the nightly raids upon the capital. Paul, Elinor and Kit are of that unlucky generation whose hopes, dreams and youth were effectively destroyed by the First World War, they fought, they lost loved ones, and they came home bearing the scars, physical and mental. The art the three created during that war made their names; they have become well established within the art world, and Elinor asked to become an official war artist, decides to paint the truth, not a sanitised version of it. Now more than twenty years later they are caught up in another war, a war which inevitably brings back memories of that earlier conflict, opens old wounds, and tests their relationships with one another to the limit. Old passions, griefs and obsessions come bubbling to the surface again.

What Pat Barker does so very brilliantly is to explore with devastating authenticity the nightmare that London became, a nightly hell almost unimaginable. Each new day showing newly created spaces where houses once stood, the last of the bodies cleared away, as Londoners try to carry on with their difficult lives. Pat Barker’s war ravaged London is an uncomfortable place to be, forget the stories of sing songs in shelters, and sharing of cocoa, this a place where children die, a place where people wander traumatised and heartbroken through the wreckage of their homes, I think we can all understand how anchorless we would feel if our home was suddenly gone. Part of Elinor’s story is told in diary form in which she describes beautifully how the loss of her own home makes her feel.

“I miss my house. It’s like grief for a person- an actual physical craving – and yes, I know it’s only bricks and mortar and it shouldn’t matter when every day – or rather every night- so many more important things are being lost. Lives, for God’s sake. And yet I can’t talk myself out of it. There’s a particular place – was a particular place – at the bottom of the basement stairs. You turn left and there’s a small window looking out on to the back garden and it has a cupboard underneath. I used to keep a jug of flowers there. We bought the jug in Deià, very cheap, but beautiful, and the flowers came from the garden in summer, in winter it was twigs and leaves, hemlock, I used to get it from the river bank here, catkins… Nothing cost more than a few pennies, but in that particular place, at particular times of day – late afternoon when the sun struck the window at a slight angle and shone through the leaves, delineating every vein on every leaf, it was perfection.”

We meet Bertha Mason, newly released from prison, a medium, who Paul comes across on several occasions, a ward maid in a hospital, her spiritualist evenings are packed with the bereaved. Bertha is an enormous woman, a foul mouthed northerner; she carries the dead with her.

I really think Noonday is quite brilliant, every bit as powerful as much of Pat Barker’s famous Regeneration trilogy. Noonday is the first novel of Barker’s which chronicles the Second World War, and it does so with breath-taking honesty and realism.

pat barker

Read Full Post »

toby's room

Pat Barker – birthday 8th May

Toby’s Room is a companion novel to Life Class, I had thought it was a sequel – but it’s not really, the novel would stand alone. However I am glad I read the novels in this order. In Life Class we met Elinor Brooke, Paul Tarrant and Kit Neville and these characters are central to Toby’s Room as well. When I was reading Life Class I found Elinor a cold and elusive character and after reading Toby’s Room I find she remains just a little out of reach –I am sure this is deliberate.
Toby’s Room opens two years before the events in Life Class – Elinor and her brother Toby have had a special close relationship since they were small, they even look alike – especially once Elinor has cut off her hair. Elinor is an art student at the Slade, studying under surgeon/artist Henry Tonks – a difficult and exacting tutor – who later in the war spends his time drawing portraits of horribly disfigured men. Henry Tonks is a character taken from life – his drawings of wounded men can still be seen today. Toby is a medical student. In the suffocating atmosphere of their family home, their parents leading separate lives, their traditionally married sister rather smug and critical, Elinor and Toby’s relationship is complex, and as the lines between them blur their relationship changes forever.

“Somehow or other they had to get back to the ways things were. What had happened was not something that could be talked about, or explained, or analysed, or in any other way resolved. It could only be forgotten.”

Five years later, and the war has taken its toll on Elinor and her Slade friends. Paul back from France with a permanent limp and in constant pain is more fortunate than some. Toby – who had spent his time serving as a doctor on the front line, patching up the injured – even leaving the relative safety of his post to bring back injured men from the mud of the trenches, constantly putting himself in harm’s way – is “missing presumed dead.” Kit Neville had been part of Toby’s unit – but is now lying in a facial injuries hospital – the hospital where his old tutor Tonks draws the faces of disfigured men.
With Toby missing presumed dead, Elinor has something missing in herself, her grief is raw and terrible. Coldly refusing to have anything to do with the war, the war has finally come to her, with Toby’s death and Paul and Kit’s injuries. Still strongly committed to her art she has produced many landscape paintings of the countryside around their childhood home – in every one there is a shadow, a presence of the brother that is gone. Back in the family home – which is in the process of being broken up – is Toby’s Room, which remains a powerful reminder for Elinor.

“Lying between the sheets, she felt different; her body had turned into bread dough, dough that’s been kneaded and pounded till it’s grey, lumpen, no yeast in it, no lightness, no prospect of rising. Her arms lay stiff by her sides. When, finally, she drifted off to sleep, she dreamt she was on her knees in a corner of the room, trying to vomit without attracting the attention of the person who was asleep on the bed. Her eyes wide open in the darkness, she tried to cast off the dream, but it stayed with her till morning.”

In fact Toby is a constant haunting presence throughout the novel, although he is mainly seen through the memories of Elinor’s artist friends – especially the morphine induced hallucinations of Kit Neville.
When Paul visits Elinor and seeing the paintings she has finished, he is concerned by her apparent obsession to find out exactly what happened to Toby. Having had his belongings returned to the house, Elinor discovers part of an unfinished letter in the lining of Toby’s jacket – which puzzles her. When she writes to Kit Neville – who had served with her brother – she receives no reply. When Kit is returned to England with horrible facial injuries – Elinor insists on going to see him, despite Tonks having warned Paul to leave him alone. At the facial injuries hospital Elinor finds work to do alongside her former tutor – work that bring her into contact with Kit. There is a mystery surrounding Toby’s death, Elinor is convinced of that, and she enlists Paul’s help in finding out what that is.

Toby’s Room is a blistering account of the ravages of war on people, their relationships and – in a departure from other WW1 novels – their art. I love Pat Barker’s writing – and although Life Class and Toby’s Room are not quite as powerful as the utterly brilliant Regeneration trilogy – there are still many beautifully written passages infused with Barkers brilliant understatement, which leave the reader with a host of remarkable images to ponder on.

pat barker

Read Full Post »


Pat Barker (birthday – 8th May)

Like Pat Barker’s hugely successful Regeneration trilogy ‘Life Class’ is set just before and during the First World War. As the novel opens Paul Tarrant an art student studying at the Slade School of art takes his place in the life drawing class tutored by the difficult Henry Tonks. Paul has a tough time under Tonks, leading him to even question his talent in his frustration. Paul and his artistic friends spend many evenings at the Café Royal, where he is introduced to Teresa, a beautiful troubled young woman, who Paul soon becomes involved with. In the background however, is Elinor Brooke another Slade student who is admired by both Paul and fellow artist Kit Neville. Paul is a lesser artist than Kit and Elinor, both of whom seem to be teetering on the brink of brilliance.

As tensions in Europe rise, Elinor invites both Paul and Kit to spend some time with her family at their home, but Elinor is reticent of getting too involved with Kit who wants to marry her, and knows that Paul is also attracted to her – but she keeps them both at arm’s length. Elinor is a modern young woman, shockingly short haired she is unconventional in many ways and doesn’t dream of the traditional role of wife and mother that other young women content themselves with. For Elinior is serious about her art, and anxious not to end up like her mother and sister. When war comes Elinor wants only to continue with her art, she prefers to ignore the war as much as possible, despite her brother Toby enlisting and going off to France.

With the outbreak of hostilities, and unable to serve in the army, both Paul and Kit Neville find themselves in Belgium, as Red Cross volunteers. Here Paul works with men dreadfully injured, many of whom don’t survive their injuries. Paul and the people he works alongside have an impossible task – by the time the injured arrive at their station their wounds are already infected – they are in fact fighting their own losing battle. There is a soldier so desperate he tries to shoot himself, failing to kill himself, he is patched up, so that later he can be shot for desertion. A frustrated and enraged surgeon kicks an amputated limb across the operating room. These are not pretty images, but they are powerful. Pat Barker’s writing about World War I is uncompromising and unforgettable.

“But then, that’s the question. Should you even pause to consider your own reactions? These men suffer so much more than he does, more than he can imagine. In the face of their suffering, isn’t it self-indulgent to think about his own feelings? He has nobody to talk to about such things and blunders his way through as best he can. If you feel nothing -this is what he comes back to time and time again -you might just as well be a machine, and machines aren’t very good at caring for people. There’s something machine-like about a lot of the professional nurses here. Even Sister Byrd, whom he admires, he looks at her sometimes and sees an automaton. Well, lucky for her, perhaps. It’s probably more efficient to be like that. Certainly less painful.”

When new recruit Lewis arrives, without the matter of fact cynicism that Paul has acquired, he is accommodated in Paul’s hut, and therefore under his wing. Paul finds this responsibility irritating, and the sharing of his space difficult – wanting somewhere where he could at least theoretically paint on his days off. Paul rents a room in the small nearby town, and invites Elinor to stay, for a short time. Here their relationship naturally moves on a pace. However the war encroaches and Elinor must leave suddenly – and return to the safety of England.
The longer Paul stays in Belgium, tending to the horribly injured, later driving ambulances – leaving injured men he cannot accommodate in the road, even dealing with piles of dead bodies – the more of himself he seems to lose. The distance between he and Elinor seems greater as her letters become less frequent, and the world he once inhabited seems a long way away. Back in London Elinor has joined a group of pacifists and conscientious objectors led by society hostess Lady Ottoline Morrell. As letters pass between the two lovers it becomes apparent that neither can fully understand the world of the other.

After the bombardment of Ypres, Paul begins to see the world very differently, on his return to London, Paul must determine whether his experiences have changed him completely – and where, if anywhere, he now fits.
I found Life Class a compelling and powerful novel, Pat Barkers descriptions of injured men, and the bombardment of Ypres transport the reader to Belgium in the early days of World War I. The novel’s opening in the months before the outbreak of war, the frivolity, flirting and possibilities that life offers these young people contrast starkly with what comes later. I now cannot wait to read the sequel Toby’s Room which I have on my kindle.

pat barker

Read Full Post »

When Tom Seymour, a child psychologist, plunges into a river to save a young man from drowning, he unwittingly reopens a chapter from his past he’d hoped to forget. For Tom already knows Danny Miller – when Danny was ten Tom helped imprison him for the killing of an old woman. Now out of prison with a new identity, Danny has some questions – questions he thinks only Tom can answer. Reluctantly, Tom is drawn back into Danny’s world – a place where the border between good and evil, innocence and guilt is blurred and confused. But when Danny’s demands on Tom become extreme, Tom wonders whether he has crossed a line of his own – and in crossing it, can he ever go back?

This is a brilliant novel, if I hadn’t of been so busy/tired the last two days I would have finished it much quicker because it is the sort of book that is very hard to put down. Danny Miller is a chillingly believable character – who you are never quite sure about – whether or not he is a threat to Tom or not. It is also a fascinating look at the aftermath of a terrible crime comitted by a child which hits the headlines – and has everyone talking – but what happens to the child when they are released? I have previously read the Regeneration trilogy by this author, and am now a bit of a fan.

Read Full Post »

The third of the regeneration series – I am so glad that I have read it – there are some tough things to reconcile in it but it is powerful and wonderful. In this book the war is coming to an end, Rivers spends alot of time remembering his time as an anthrapologist in Melanesia among a tribe of headhunters. Billy Prior goes back to France, as does Wilfred Owen.

Another fascinating read, I was glad that in this book I found out a lot more about Rivers. How amazing that he and his sisters had known Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) as a child. The details of Rivers time in a community of headhunters in Melanesia(?) was really fascinating, and not something I would have expected of the third book in The Regeneration series.
In addition we meet up again with Billy Prior, and Wilfred Owen. The ending – well inevitable, and sad really.

Read Full Post »

The stories of ‘temporary gentleman’ Billy Prior, Siegfried Sassoon and the army psychologist Rivers continue in the second part of the Regeneration trilogy, along with that of a new character, the wounded homosexual officer Charles Manning. Themes include class struggle, anti-war activists disrupting munitions production, an army doctor’s attempts to balance the conflicting needs of the army and his patients, and anti-homosexual propaganda.

Although a book of very difficult themes, it is surprisingly readable, and I found it taught me quite a lot too. The are several aspects which make this a fascinating read: the treatment of homosexuals and the anti-war propaganda of the time, the Pemberton Billings case, and the supposed plot to poision Lloyd George, all of which are based on actual events, and none of which I had heard of previously. The themes of this novel, are powerfully summed up in the character of Billy Prior. I think I enjoyed Regeneration more than this one – although I’m not sure why, because this is a really good read too.

Read Full Post »

In Craiglockhart war hospital, Doctor William Rivers attempts to restore the sanity of officers from World War I. When Siegfried Sassoon publishes his declaration of protest against the war, the authorities decide to have him declared mentally defective and send him to Craiglockhart.

I finished this last night, and I really loved it. It is of course a book of difficult themes, with some disturbing imagery, but it is beautifully written, and the relationships which develop between characters are fascinating. I was reminded several times of the wonderful, haunting war poetry that I read many years ago, but haven’t read since – this book made me want to read it again. I enjoyed it so much, I will start The Eye of the Door today.

Read Full Post »