Like Barker's Regeneration Trilogy, Life Class is set during World War I. The first half involves the blithe lives of a group of young art students, ..Show More »including Paul and Elinor, whose friendship develops into something more. As the war wages on, Paul attempts to sign up; when he is rejected, he volunteers as an ambulance driver. The novel encomppases some of the horrors of war familliar to Barker readers/listeners, but the intent here seems to be to show how the experience of war changes people and their relationships. A fine listen.
As a fan of Barker's brilliant Regeneration series, I had high hopes for Toby's Room, but I confess to being somewhat underwhelmed. Art student Elinor..Show More » Brooke, familiar to readers of Life Class, returns at the heart of the story. World War I is peering over the horizon but has not yet crossed the English shores, and Elinor's greatest concerns are her art classes at the Slade, her parents' dissolving marriage, and her close relationship with her older brother Toby. But something disturbing happens, causing a rupture that brother and sister can never quite repair. Still, Elinor persists with her classes and Toby finished his medical degree. And then the war takes over.
Fast forward a few years. Toby has signed up as a medic and is serving in France, and Elinor is getting a bit bored with the Slade, uncertain of what she will do when her studies are completed. News comes that Toby has gone missing in action and is presumed dead. Shortly after, a package with his belongings arrives, and Elinor finds a brief note among them, addressed to her. In it, Toby mysteriously reveals that he won't be coming back. Convinced that he must still be alive, Elinor sets out to solve the mystery. She enlists the help of Paul Tarrant, a fellow Slade student and former lover who has just returned from the war with a severe leg injury, and the two of them focus on another former student, Kit Neville, who served with Toby as a stretcher bearer. Kit is among the patients of Dr. Harold Gillies (a factual person, the 'father' of modern plastic surgery) at Queen Mary Hospital, all of whom have suffered traumatic facial injuries.
Fortunately for Elinor, she is offered a job by Henry Tonks (another real person), her former professor, drawing the faces of the injured. The purpose of the drawings is educational: to assist Dr. Gillies in facial reconstruction and to create an archive of his efforts for other surgeons. In this capacity, she is able to visit Kit, but he is either unable or unwilling to tell her anything about Toby's apparent demise. Paul strikes up an uneasy friendship with Kit, partly out of sympathy for a fellow artist and wounded warrior, but partly in hopes of aiding Elinor.
The truth is finally revealed in the last pages of the book. Don't worry--no spoilers here. But I am rather puzzled at just how Toby got from Point A to Point C. Barker seems to imply a cause-and-effect between two events that just doesn't make sense to me. Putting that aside, however, there are many things to commend in Toby's Room. The characters are well drawn and, as always, Barker gives us a portrait of war and its effects on human lives that is both brutal and poignant. While I can't recommend this novel as highly as Regeneration, it is certainly worth reading, especially for Barker fans or for those interested in the impact of the war on those at home and the extraordinary efforts to mend the wounded.
The reader, Nicola Barber, is very well cast and does a fine job.
This book is beautifully written, a powerfully evocative portrayal of life on the homefront in WW2. I really enjoyed the listen and found it educati..Show More »onal and thought provoking .....BUT...I couldn't believe it had ended. I thought I must have skipped to the end by accident, leaving out a few key chapters. I felt that there were too many loose ends ..and characters that seemed to have had no purpose /resolution. ...but i wonder retrospectively if this was because I had not read the earlier 2 books. I am going to give the earlier books a read...and will be interested to hear what others think.