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Toby's Room I have huge respect for Pat Barker and devoured her Regeneration trilogy, but have been a little disappointed in subsequent offerings I m afraid Toby s Room hasn t changed that at all.Still writing about the tragedy of WW1, I feel this novel and it s somewhat surprising opening events doesn t really add to Barker s canon on the subject The characters, with the possible exception of Neville, are insubstantial and, while Neville is fleshed out a littlethoroughly than the rest, even the I have huge respect for Pat Barker and devoured her Regeneration trilogy, but have been a little disappointed in subsequent offerings I m afraid Toby s Room hasn t changed that at all.Still writing about the tragedy of WW1, I feel this novel and it s somewhat surprising opening events doesn t really add to Barker s canon on the subject The characters, with the possible exception of Neville, are insubstantial and, while Neville is fleshed out a littlethoroughly than the rest, even the origins of his abrasive personality are never clearly examined Elinor is largely unlikeable, but not to any extent that actually inspires a distinct dislike, Paul is mostly a vessel to carry the story along and Toby is completely shadowy perhaps deliberately so.Through a couple of references to Elinor s social life we are given a very brief glimpse into the Bloomsbury circles active in that period, but again it is insubstantial, offering nothing of value to the story and comes across ever so slightly as name dropping.The work of Sir Harold Gillies was game changing and I think that an opportunity to examine the treatment and both short and long term impact of the horrific facial injuries suffered by WW1 veterans was disappointingly lost here The bitter irony of war is that it defines life at the same time as it destroys For those in uniform, following orders is the one raison d etre when all reason has been lost in the bloodied muck of the battlefield For those left behind, doing for the war effort becomes the channel through which fear and pride flow into the morass of uncertainty How does war change us Does it redefine character Does it halt the trajectory of our lives and set us on a different path Does it show in stark rel The bitter irony of war is that it defines life at the same time as it destroys For those in uniform, following orders is the one raison d etre when all reason has been lost in the bloodied muck of the battlefield For those left behind, doing for the war effort becomes the channel through which fear and pride flow into the morass of uncertainty How does war change us Does it redefine character Does it halt the trajectory of our lives and set us on a different path Does it show in stark relief who we really are, stripped bare of our defenses and pretenses And who are we if we have been stripped of that most central piece of our identity our literal flesh and bone face With Toby s Room, her follow up to 2007 s Life Class, Pat Barker returns to England in the years just prior to World War I The first part of Toby s Room set in 1912 at the country home of Toby s and his sister Elinor s upper middle class family serves as a prequel to Life Class Its second half set in 1917 tells us what became of the characters and their relationships that were the central focus of Life Class Toby s Room can be read independently of its precursor, but it is a strong testament to the writer s skill how seamlessly she weaves together these two books so that they seem not like prequel or sequel, but parts of a greater whole Barker explores many of the same themes in Toby s Room the intersection of art and war, the brutality of the WWI battlefields and trenches, the emotional defenses people create to survive the worst of times But Toby s Room is darker, richer and crueler than Life Class It shows us that not even the greatest heroism and courage can change the face of shame There is an element of mystery in Toby s Room, as Elinor obsesses over the Missing, Believed Killed telegram her family receives in 1917 Her search for the truth of her brother s disappearance in France defines the narrative s plot Elinor manages this intrigue while turning her back on any involvement in the war, willfully denying the effect it has had on her life, her love affairs and her family She tries to lose herself in her art, but eventually it is her art that draws her directly into the war effort Pat Barker brings to life the fascinating intersection of war, art and science during World War I, intermingling historical characters and institutions with her fictional narrative to show how artists aided in surgical reconstruction of soldiers faces disfigured by bullets, bombs and shrapnel I spent some time looking through the Tonks portraits at The Gillies Archives the creation and use of which is also a central theme of Toby s Room The portraits of faces destroyed by war and reconstructed with the medical technology available at the time are devastating Barker gives these forgotten men voices, faces and souls Her writing style is restrained, distant, almost cold at times The tone fits the characters and their social class and mirrors the walls they have erected around their hearts And it makes the brutality of the story all theshocking Set among a group of students at the Slade School of Art in London and France before and during the first world war, Barker s new novel explores the intersection of art and medicine, through the pioneering science of facial reconstruction This is a book for a stark, rainy day and a cup of steaming hot tea The whole book is somber and bleak, as of course it should be considering the topic Toby s Room is Pat Barker s second book it could easily be read alone, but I recommend reading Life Class first about three young British art students whose lives are ravaged by World War I This novel takes place after the two men are back in London, dealing with injuries of both the physical and psychological nature, struggling to find a ha This is a book for a stark, rainy day and a cup of steaming hot tea The whole book is somber and bleak, as of course it should be considering the topic Toby s Room is Pat Barker s second book it could easily be read alone, but I recommend reading Life Class first about three young British art students whose lives are ravaged by World War I This novel takes place after the two men are back in London, dealing with injuries of both the physical and psychological nature, struggling to find a hand hold in the world they re left with The biggest focus is on headstrong, introverted Elinor, who I liked much better in this book than the first Her character is multi faceted and complex, as is her brother Toby, even though he really only appears in flashbacks and recollections of other characters Elinor is at times withdrawn and deeply reticent, and other times moves through life like a woman possessed Possessed both by her terrier like determination to unravel the whole horrible truth of her brother s death, and by the raw, gaping wound she carries as a result of that loss Their relationship is incredibly complex, and Pat Barker is always willing to take her characters down some very dark paths.I hope that Barker continues to write books about World War I era England, because she brilliantly captures not only the horror but the myriad of fractures, unraveled threads, and ripple effects that exist throughout the whole lives of a generation shaped by such a war It touches everything and everyone, and her characters are all so nuanced, all so genuinely human I still maintain that the three books of her Regeneration Trilogy are some of the best ever written about the era, and about war in general While Toby s Room is not quite to that level, it has its own power and left an ache in my heart Toby s Room is the latest excellent novel by Pat Barker I have read most of Pat Barker s novels and they never fail to satisfy Barker creates interesting characters and her best works the Regeneration Trilogy occur during the First World War In these books and in Toby s Room her fictional characters interact with actual historical figures in coming to grips with the horrors of modern warfare Barker writes less about battles and combat andabout the impact of those conflicts on combatan Toby s Room is the latest excellent novel by Pat Barker I have read most of Pat Barker s novels and they never fail to satisfy Barker creates interesting characters and her best works the Regeneration Trilogy occur during the First World War In these books and in Toby s Room her fictional characters interact with actual historical figures in coming to grips with the horrors of modern warfare Barker writes less about battles and combat andabout the impact of those conflicts on combatants and their families and lovers living in Great Britain at the same time Barker also depicts how the war occurred during a time of major societal change as the class and social s of Victorian England were shaken to their foundations Toby s Room is in some ways a sequel to Life Class featuring many of the same characters However i believe the books need not be read in tandem Toby s Room stands on its own The principle characters in Toby s Room are Toby Brook a military doctor, his Sister Eleanor an artist and Kit Neville and Paul Tarrant, wounded World War I veterans and artists like Eleanor Toby is an enigma, although his presence and absence drives the plot.The most in teresting element of the novel to me was not the sexual tensions and behavior of various characters albeit that was intriguging but the descriptions of medical treatment for soldiers horribly scarred by the war Kit Neville is one such victim and the nightmare of being grotesquely wounded and coping with the stigma of such an injury was moving and fascinating Pat Barker is an excellent novelist Anyone who enjoys serious literature should try her books Toby s Room is a great place to start Toby s Room is probably the seventh book by Pat Barker I have read I must admit that I was so impressed and affected by her Regenaration trilogy when I had read it a couple of years ago, that Barker became one of my favourite writers, and I have been coming back forof her writing ever since Toby s Room is a sequel to Life Class , although it can be read as a separate book as well And, together with Life Class it s another disturbing and vivid account of life before, during and Toby s Room is probably the seventh book by Pat Barker I have read I must admit that I was so impressed and affected by her Regenaration trilogy when I had read it a couple of years ago, that Barker became one of my favourite writers, and I have been coming back forof her writing ever since Toby s Room is a sequel to Life Class , although it can be read as a separate book as well And, together with Life Class it s another disturbing and vivid account of life before, during and after the WWI I liked Toby s Roomthan Life Class , even if it could not touch me in the same way as the Regeneration trilogy The two books in the series follow the lives of a few art students in The Slade, a renowned art school in London, and their inevitable transformation by war Barker masterly analyzes the place of art in war does it make sense to keep making art Can you still be impartial If you keep making art during the war, does it convert you into a conchie Can art become part of a war machine All these questions torment the characters while sooner or later they all get drawn in by the devastating and omnivorous beast of war.One of the aspects of Barker s historical novels that I really love and admire is her capacity to mix real historical characters with invented ones so naturally I always end up guessing which of them really existed, looking them up, reading their biographies, and learning a lot of historical details which are not directly presented in the book It awakens my curiosity for history, and I finish her books, hopefully, a little less ignorant than I was before opening them In Toby s Room we meet at least a couple of these characters One of them is Henry Tonks, a surgeon and a strict and formidable art teacher at The Slade, who introduces anatomy classes to art students, so that they can get to know a human body in all its aspects Elinor, an art student and one of the main characters of the book, attends anatomy class together with medical students, and studies it by slowly dissecting a body of an unknown man during a period of a few months, until there is nothing left of it but bones After the war Tonks works as an illustrator in Queens Hospital, where facial injuries are treated, in order to depict the faces of the soldiers before and after the surgeries Here he works with Harold Gillies, a surgeon and another historical character, who is now considered the father of plastic surgery Barker s vivid description of the atmosphere in the hospital, together with Tonks paintings and Gillies plastic surgery methods, illustrations of which you can easily find online, is powerful and disturbing Both through the scenes of the dissected man in the anatomy class, and through the injuries of the patients in Queen s Hospital, which involve the protagonists as well, Barker studies the relation between face and identity I could not truly connect to the characters of the book and found them a little distant, especially in comparison to other books of Barker, and that must be the reason of why they are mostly absent in my review However, my four stars go to the incredibly complicated topics analyzed by the author, to introducing me once again to the horrors of war, seen from different angles which I had been incapable of imagining before opening this book, to disturbing me once again, and to never failing to shake me out of my comfortable numbness I can t believe that I ve left this book unread for so many years, I loved this so much This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers To view it, click here Pat Barker tackles another World War I tale with Toby s Room The story revolves around Elinor s quest to find out how her brother Toby died in the war I adored the Regeneration Trilogy and perhaps that s why I was so disappointed in this book There were a few major problems that I had with Toby s Room First, the character of Elinor never grabbed my interest She seemed aloof and although it was clear she loved her brother I never quite felt it Toby also was a complete mystery to me The oth Pat Barker tackles another World War I tale with Toby s Room The story revolves around Elinor s quest to find out how her brother Toby died in the war I adored the Regeneration Trilogy and perhaps that s why I was so disappointed in this book There were a few major problems that I had with Toby s Room First, the character of Elinor never grabbed my interest She seemed aloof and although it was clear she loved her brother I never quite felt it Toby also was a complete mystery to me The other characters, Kit and Paul, were much stronger, but this didn t save the book since the story focused on Elinor and her brother I was also annoyed by the incest theme I didn t quite understand why it was included in the story Barker throws the incest into the book so early that we don t understand the motivation behind it In fact I never understood what drove Toby and Elinor together Were we to think that Toby s advances towards his sister were an attempt to fight his gay tendencies or was the incident something that drove him towards men I just didn t get it I feel the book would have been better if she had cut the incest thread altogether and instead fleshed out the relationship between Elinor and Toby Despite its problems, the book was quite riveting when it got rolling and that s why it gets three stars instead of two Barker once again injects realism into her novel by having the war artist Henry Tonks as Elinor s art teacher I m not sure this worked quite as well as it did in the Regeneration Trilogy, but it was still an interesting inclusion Looking back, I realise that Pat Barker s Regeneration trilogy was responsible for a shift in the direction of reading Those books made me realise that war books weren t just about men and fighting And that I could learn a great deal about the world and humanity through books that considered war and its consequences Since then I ve read and learned a great deal But I haven t read any of Pat Barker s work, because nothing has called me in quite the same way as that trilogy Until now Toby s Looking back, I realise that Pat Barker s Regeneration trilogy was responsible for a shift in the direction of reading Those books made me realise that war books weren t just about men and fighting And that I could learn a great deal about the world and humanity through books that considered war and its consequences Since then I ve read and learned a great deal But I haven t read any of Pat Barker s work, because nothing has called me in quite the same way as that trilogy Until now Toby s Room is set in the same period, and when I first read about it I saw that it would be a very different novel, but that there would be similarities in the themes and in the structure A companion piece, perhaps It began in the summer of 1912 when Elinor Brooke, a student at the Slade School of Art, travelled from London, back to her childhood home It was not a happy home Elinor s parents lived largely separate lives she staying in the country for his health while his life revolved around his club Her elder sister, Rachel, was distant and critical of the choices she had made But Elinor was close to her brother, Toby Maybe too close Something happened between them that summer that changed their relationship, and shook Elinor Back in London she is unsettled she doesn t know how to act, and she begins to question what she is doing, what she should do, with her life And then the story moves forward, to 1917 Paul Tennant, Elinor s former lover, is being brought back to England He is badly wounded, strapped to a stretcher, but he is alive And Toby is dead Grief hits Elinor when the brown paper parcel contains his possessions is delivered And then she begins to ask questions Why did the War Office say that he was missing presumed dead Why was there an unfinished letter among his possessions And why did his old friend, Kit, who had been with him not write She must have answers Kit had been gravely injured, his face destroyed, not long after Toby s death, and he was being treated by pioneering plastic surgeon Harold Gillies at St Mary s Hospital Elinor enlists Paul to help her approach him And she meets her old tutor, Henry Tonks, who is painting the hospitalised men, recording their treatment and it s progress Elinor finds her purpose working with Tonks And in time, as Paul forms a tentative friendship with Kit, he finds the answers to her questions The answers weren t surprising I d realised what they would be very early on Pat Barker writes well, without fuss and with clarity, always with the story to the fore But she held me at a distance At first I found it difficult to care about these people and their lives Then though something changed As the story progressed I was drawn in, by the devastating portrayals of Elinor s overwhelming grief and Kit s unspeakable situation And I was fascinated by the two characters drawn from life Harold Gillies and Henry Tonks and I had to learnabout them The inclusion of other real life characters, members of the Bloomsbury group, who crossed paths with Elinor, worked less well It was a distraction, and it felt like name dropping There wereinteresting,importantrelevant themes to consider The relation of art and war The roles of women in war The emotions, the realities, that was draws out The difficulty in living with the consequences of war They were compelling, and though Toby s Room didn t strike me as powerfully as Pat Barker s earlier work, I suspect that is in part she set me on a path and I have read so many books set in and around those war years since then Age and experience alters perceptions It is also because this is a very different story, and because many of its principal characters do not naturally call on feelings of understanding or compassion I still consider this a companion piece, but it is also a book that stands up in its own right and has much to offer any reader with an interest in its themes This is another typical Pat Barker book By that I mean it s a really excellent read Like The Regeneration trilogy, this book is set in the years during and just after, the First World War, and the awful consequences thereof.I have to say that the part of the book that is set in a military hospital dealing with soldiers with facial injuries was pretty hard to take Some of the descriptions of these injuries were really horrific.This is a book mainly about a brother and sister, with other memora This is another typical Pat Barker book By that I mean it s a really excellent read Like The Regeneration trilogy, this book is set in the years during and just after, the First World War, and the awful consequences thereof.I have to say that the part of the book that is set in a military hospital dealing with soldiers with facial injuries was pretty hard to take Some of the descriptions of these injuries were really horrific.This is a book mainly about a brother and sister, with other memorable characters as well, of course It is also a book about secrets, two really big ones in particular One of these is revealed very early on in the book, while the other doesn t get revealed until the very end So you have to wait for it, but let me tell you, it was a very pleasurable experience getting there.Also, I only consider a book to be historical fiction if there are characters from real life in the book There are at least two of those in this book, which is why it qualifies as far as I m concerned This is only my system of course


About the Author: Pat Barker

Pat Barker was born in Thornaby on Tees in 1943 She was educated at the London School of Economics and has been a teacher of history and politics Her books include 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 s married and lives in Durham, England.


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