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Life Classby Pat Barker
Synopses & Reviews
From the Booker Prize-winning author of The Regeneration Trilogy, an acknowledged masterpiece of modern fiction, Life Class is an exceptional new novel of artists and lovers caught in the maelstrom of the Great War.
It is the spring of 1914 and a group of young students have gathered in an art studio for a life-drawing class. Paul Tarrant and Elinor Brooke are two parts of an intriguing love triangle and, in the first days of war, they turn to each other. As spring turns to summer, Paul volunteers for the Belgian Red Cross and tends to wounded, dying soldiers from the front line. By the time he returns, Paul must confront the fact that life and love will never be the same for him again.
In Life Class, Pat Barker returns to her most renowned subject: the human devastation and psychic damage wrought by World War One on all levels of British society. Her skill in relaying the harrowing experience of modern warfare is matched by the depth of insight she brings to the experience of love and the morality of art in a time of war. Life Class is one of her genuine masterpieces.
"Set initially in 1914 before the start of WWI, Barker's first novel since 2004's Double Vision tells the story of two students at London's Slade School of Fine Art, Paul Tarrant and Elinor Brooke, along with that of Kit Neville, a promising young painter. Paul begins an affair with Teresa Halliday, a troubled artist's model, and Kit woos Elinor, but both men rush off to the Continent at the outset of hostilities to work with the wounded. The author's unflinching eye for detail and her supple prose create an undeniably powerful narrative, but her skills cannot compensate for a weak plot. What appear to be critical story lines (Paul's affair with Teresa, Kit's painting career) are almost abandoned once Paul and Elinor become lovers. And the book's main theme — war's impact on art and love — pales in comparison with the tragic experiences of those who fight and die in the conflict. Despite riveting passages depicting the waste and horror of WWI, this effort falls short of the standard set by Barker's magisterial Regeneration trilogy, the last of which, The Ghost Road, won the Booker Prize." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"As ever with Barker...the writing is breathtaking...sharply written and elegantly constructed." D. J. Taylor, The Guardian
"With great tenderness and insight, and a daring to forgo simple resolutions, Barker conveys a wartime world turned upside down." Mark Bostridge, The Independent
"This is a story about hopeful ambitions and relationships redirected and reshaped by a climate of catastrophic change....[It] render[s] the horrors of combat with (Barker's trademark) meticulously researched detail and piercing clarity. Secondary characters' experiences likewise amplify into lucid microcosms of the global cataclysm that shadows every individual life....Mature, unsentimental and searching. One of this excellent writer's finest books." Kirkus Reviews (starred)
"After several intriguing but lumpy novels set in the present or near-present, it becomes clear to the reader that World War I resonates with Ms. Barker with special force, for Life Class possesses the organic power and narrative sweep that her recent books with more contemporary settings lack." Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
"Barker doesn't spend a whole lot of time on the joy of creating or flashes of inspiration. Instead, as she paints a portrait of how three very different personalities cope with carnage and horror, she examines the place of art in a shaken world." Christian Science Monitor
"Life Class leaves us with a profound sense of gratitude for writers like Barker who are able to look at the world's frequent sorrows and occasional splendors with unflinching compassion." Los Angeles Times
"Life Class feels urgent and timely. It addresses head-on what Barker's previous novel...explored only obliquely: In a world where so much has gone wrong, where so much is at stake, can we justify making love and making art?" Miami Herald
"Here, as in her best fiction, Barker unveils psychologically rich characters in steady, even strokes; social and political drama, as well as personal ambition, expose their contradictions over the course of the novel." San Francisco Chronicle
"Barker's portrayal of the landscape of war...is all the more affecting for its stripped-down prose." Boston Globe
"[A] book so alive from page to page that it's difficult to put down." Seattle Times
About the Author
Pat Barker is the author of 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, most recently Double Vision. She lives in England.
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