With Toby’s Room, a sequel to her widely praised previous novel Life Class, the incomparable Pat Barker confirms her place in the pantheon of Britain’s finest novelists. This indelible portrait of a family torn apart by war focuses on Toby Brooke, a medical student, and his younger sister Elinor. Enmeshed in a web of complicated family relationships, Elinor and Toby are close: some might say too close. But when World War I begins, Toby is posted to the front as a medical officer while Elinor stays in London to continue her fine art studies at the Slade, under the tutelage of Professor Henry Tonks. There, in a startling development based in actual fact, Elinor finds that her drafting skills are deployed to aid in the literal reconstruction of those maimed in combat.
One day in 1917, Elinor has a sudden premonition that Toby will not return from France. Three weeks later the family receives a telegram informing them that Toby is “Missing, Believed Killed” in Ypres. However, there is no body, and Elinor refuses to accept the official explanation. Then she finds a letter hidden in the lining of Toby’s uniform; Toby knew he wasn’t coming back, and he implies that fellow soldier Kit Neville will know why.
Toby’s Room is an eloquent literary narrative of hardship and resilience, love and betrayal, and anguish and redemption. In unflinching yet elegant prose, Pat Barker captures the enormity of the war’s impact—not only on soldiers at the front but on the loved ones they leave behind.
About Pat Barker
Pat Barker is most recently the author of Life Class, as well as the highly acclaimed Regeneration Trilogy: Regeneration; The Eye in the Door, winner of the Guardian Fiction Prize; and The Ghost Road, winner of the Booker Prize; as well as seven other novels. She lives in the north of England.
Part One, set in 1912, explains one reason why Elinor Brooke is the Slade’s edgiest student; on a visit to her wealthy parents’ country home, she has an incestuous one-night stand with her brother, Toby. Elinor flings herself into a dissection class at London Hospital, hoping to elevate her life-drawing skills to the exacting standards of Slade professor Henry Tonks. She also becomes close friends with arrogant, ambitious Kit Neville and meets new Slade student Paul Tarrant just before Part Two sweeps us ahead to 1917, in the thick of World War I. Toby is missing, believed killed; Paul and Kit have both been wounded, Kit with facial injuries that take him to Queen’s Hospital, where Tonks makes portraits of the disfigured men to assist the medical staff. “How can any human being endure this?” Elinor wonders as she looks at this work. It’s a rare moment of compassion for Elinor, who has hardened noticeably in the five-year interval and is obsessed with finding out what happened to Toby. A note among his belongings sent home from the front suggests that Kit knows something, and Elinor enlists her erstwhile lover Paul—whom she’s barely visited since he was wounded—to confront Kit in the hospital. Kit refuses to tell them anything, but the sordid truth about Toby’s fate does eventually come out. War’s horrors are a familiar subject for Barker, and she has always been a trenchant, uncompromising writer, but this sour work is far below the best pages of Life Class, let alone the majestic pessimism of her masterpiece, the Regeneration trilogy (Regeneration, 1992, etc.). Here, she seems to be exploring with diminishing returns themes that once displayed her gifts more fully. – Kirkus Reviews
Rendering and Remembering - ‘Toby’s Room,’ by Pat Barker
The New York Times Book Review – October 5, 2012 (Excerpt)
“It had become a preoccupation of his — almost an obsession — working out how the war had changed him; other people, too, of course.” The war is World War I and he is Paul Tarrant, a character in Pat Barker’s new novel, “Toby’s Room.” But the obsession belongs equally to Barker, who has pursued it through a remarkable series of novels: the much-admired “Regeneration” trilogy (“Regeneration,” “The Eye in the Door” and “The Ghost Road”), “Life Class” and now “Toby’s Room.”
We can only surmise why Barker keeps returning to the Great War more than 20 years after “Regeneration.” When it was first published, reviewers marveled at her ability to write about a historical moment for which neither her age nor, presumably, her experience had prepared her. One might conclude that she has something to prove, but these novels go far beyond a demonstration of the powers of the historical imagination. Like most good works of fiction, they’re not so much about the events they depict as about the resonance of those events, the way certain actions ripple through people’s lives. Actual scenes of war are few; the fighting mostly happens offstage. But the damage of war, both physical and psychological, is everywhere, graphic and unforgettable. [Read the full article...]
Art and War: Pat Barker Talks About ‘Toby’s Room’
The New York Times Arts Beat – November 8, 2012 (Excerpt)
The novelist Pat Barker is perhaps best known for her “Regeneration” trilogy about World War I, which comprises the novels “Regeneration,” “The Eye in the Door” and “The Ghost Road.” Her latest novel, “Toby’s Room,” is also set during the Great War. In it, Elinor Brooke, a young artist studying under the professor Henry Tonks, tries to learn the fate of her brother Toby, a medical officer who is missing and presumed dead. In The New York Times Book Review, John Vernon wrote of Ms. Barker’s novels about the war: “Like most good works of fiction, they’re not so much about the events they depict as about the resonance of those events, the way certain actions ripple through people’s lives.” In a recent e-mail interview, Ms. Barker discussed her use of historical figures in fiction, thinking about war from a feminine perspective and more. [Read the full article...]
‘Toby’s Room,’ by Pat Barker
SFGate.Com Book Review – November 27, 2012 (Excerpt)
“Toby’s Room,” Pat Barker’s first novel in five years, revisits the cast and the battlefields of its predecessor, “Life Class.” As before, we follow the lives of students of London’s Slade School of Art before the outbreak of World War I, and later witness the men catapulted into the horrors of trench warfare and the women forced to make sense of it all on the home front. With both the section set in 1912 and the one in 1917, Barker triumphs at capturing the relative calm before a storm, and then the destructive might of the storm itself.
The prewar segment reintroduces us to Elinor Brooke, a student at the Slade, who one sweltering day is seduced by her brother, Toby. Aware of its wrongness, yet also attracted by it, she attempts to lose herself in her art studies. When part two arrives, we are in the thick of war. Elinor mixes with fellow “Sladettes” and “conchies” on the fringes of the Bloomsbury group while her brother is off fighting.
This time around, Barker presents war in a condensed series of flashback recollections, in part through Paul Tarrant, Elinor’s former lover, who has returned to England to convalesce. Soon he is regaling her with unflinching reports of life “out there” and taking steps to rekindle their lost love. But when Elinor is informed that Toby is “Missing, Believed Killed,” love is put on hold and Paul is tasked with uncovering the truth as to how exactly her brother – and lover - died. [Read the full article...]
‘Toby’s Room,’ by Pat Barker, a sequel to ‘Life Class’
The Washington Post Book Review – December 17, 2012 (Excerpt)
Since “Regeneration” in 1991, which reimagined the lives of the war poets, Pat Barker’s most powerful novels have charted the psychic and social reverberations of World War I. In “Toby’s Room,” the sequel to “Life Class” (2007), Barker revisits the world in which she’s most at home: one of hats, horses and handwritten letters, in which a woman could still shock her family by cutting her hair short and enrolling at art school — and into which the war arrives as a slow cataclysm, described without sentiment or grandiosity.
The novel begins in 1912 as the beautiful and talented Elinor Brooke — loosely based on the Bloomsbury painter Dora Carrington — struggles to resist marriage and to be taken seriously as an artist. During a stifling weekend at her childhood home, Elinor suffers two destabilizing shocks: Her brother, Toby, her only respite in a family hostile to her artistic ambition, suddenly violates their close relationship; immediately afterwards, she learns that Toby was a twin, whose female sibling died in the womb. The dual explosion of sex and death within the superficially tranquil home is a familiar theme for Barker, in whose novels the past lays detonating charges along the paths of characters’ lives. [Read the full article...]
QUEEN OF MISFORTUNE A Lady Jane Grey Novel by Peter Carroll
A Love Story of Shakespearean Dimension!
Queen Of Misfortune is the fictional story of Lady Jane Grey as told by her beloved tutor, John Aylmer. At the time of her execution a stranger is recorded to have assisted her when, blind folded, she lost her way upon the scaffold. Was it the same strange who was also recorded to have visited her when she was imprisoned in the Tower? Little is known of this unfortunate girl who was beheaded for treason in the 16th Century. She was only 16. She is omitted from the list of monarchs but was actually queen for nine days. Author Peter Carroll, in his novel, follows John Aylmer’s close relationship with Jane as her tutor and later, as she grows up, her lover. [More...]
We are the only country that makes guns, including military-style assault weapons, available to anyone who wants to buy them. This is not freedom. It is a tyranny of death and destruction — a tyranny of which the National Rifle Association is proud. The Washington Post
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