Together in Spirit

An online reading group ('TIS a reading group!) to bring together friends, and friends of friends, who aren't able to be in a conventional reading group due to constraints of time or geography.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Recalling Pat Barker

No sooner had I blogged the suggestion of Pat Barker's Life Class than I found it was not what it said on the packet. Hence my recall via Emily. But if anyone does want to read it (or borrow it) they're welcome. My review is below, if that helps.

Very much in the mode of the Regeneration trilogy, this is the story of Paul and Elinor, as art students before the first world war, and as lovers when Paul joins the Red Cross at Ypres. It is not, disappointingly, the story of Henry Tonks, a real artist-surgeon, though the cover led me to think it was. And that is a shame because in her Acknowledgements, Barker describes him as a surgeon before he became an artist who worked on the techniques of modern plastic surgery on the faces of mutilated young men, Tonks making the drawings of patients before and after surgery. In the text Barker writes: ‘You knew he’d arrived only when you saw the students sitting opposite straighten their shoulders or bend more anxiously over their drawings. Tonks was a dark planet whose presence could be deduced only by a deviation in the orbit of other bodies.’ Stunning imagery.

The actual story is OK, well written and taking a slightly different approach to the war – through Paul’s gruesomely described work behind the front line with the Red Cross and Elinor’s impatience with it (the war) and with the fact that everyone else seemed to think now wasn’t the time for focusing on Art.

A good chunk of the story is told through Paul’s eyes. I don’t know how realistic a man would think her characterisation is here, very much in the same mode as the Regeneration Trilogy. There is something that doesn’t ring true – which quite probably means she understands men’s minds better than I do, and that is why I find them a little strange. I’m happier with her women. This is worth following up when reading other work by her.