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Life Class [Paperback]

Pat Barker
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (56 customer reviews)
RRP: 8.99
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Book Description

7 Aug 2008
Life Class is Pat Barker's powerful and unforgettable story of art and war. Spring, 1914. The students at the Slade School of Art gather in Henry Tonks' studio for his life-drawing class. But for Paul Tarrant the class is troubling, underscoring his own uncertainty about making a mark on the world. When war breaks out and the army won't take Paul, he enlists in the Belgian Red Cross just as he and fellow student Elinor Brooke admit their feelings for one another. Amidst the devastation in Ypres, Paul comes to see the world anew - but have his experiences changed him completely? "Triumphant, shattering, inspiring". (The Times). "Barker writes as brilliantly as ever ...with great tenderness and insight she conveys a wartime world turned upside down". (Independent on Sunday). "Vigorous, masterly, gripping". (Penelope Lively, Independent). "Extraordinarily powerful". (Sunday Telegraph). Pat Barker was born in 1943. Her books include the highly acclaimed Regeneration trilogy, comprising Regeneration, which has been filmed, The Eye in the Door, which won the Guardian Fiction Prize, and The Ghost Road, which won the Booker Prize. The trilogy featured the Observer's 2012 list of the ten best historical novels. She is also the author of the more recent novels Another World, Border Crossing, Double Vision, Life Class, and Toby's Room. She lives in Durham.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (7 Aug 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141019476
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141019475
  • Product Dimensions: 1.6 x 13.1 x 19.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (56 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 15,449 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Pat Barker's books include Union Street (1982), winner of the 1983 Fawcett Prize, which has been filmed as "Stanley and Iris"; Blow Your House Down (1984); Liza's England (1986), formerly The Century's Daughter; The Man Who Wasn't There (1989); Another World; Border Crossing; and the highly acclaimed Regeneration trilogy, comprising Regeneration, The Eye in The Door, winner of the 1993 Guardian Fiction Prize, and The Ghost Road, winner of the 1995 Booker Prize for Fiction. Her latest novel is Life Class.

Barker's powerful early novels Union Street (Virago) and Blow Your House Down (Virago) memorable books celebrating the individuality of the lives of 'ordinary' women. After this the focus of her writing shifted slightly and her Regeneration trilogy was widely praised for its astute and unflinching portrayal of issues of violence, sexuality and class against the backdrop of World War One. The violence of the First World War also coloured the backdrop of Pat Barker's next novel, Another World, which looked at its effects on following generations and this theme is picked up again in Border Crossing.

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. She lives in Durham.

Product Description


Sharply written and elegantly constructed...breathtaking (Guardian)

A compelling read (Literary Review)

Thoughtful, ambiguous and powerful (Sunday Telegraph)

About the Author

Pat Barker was born in 1943. Her books include the highly acclaimed Regeneration trilogy, comprising Regeneration (1991), which was made into a film of the same name, The Eye in the Door (1993), which won the Guardian Fiction Prize, and The Ghost Road (1995), which won the Booker Prize, as well as the more recent novels Another World, Border Crossing and Double Vision. She lives in Durham.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well written but a bit thin 15 Feb 2009
Paul Tarrant is a student at art college in London. Struggling to impress his tutors he is wracked by self doubt. He falls in with the seemingly more talented Kit and Elinor. Through them he meets and starts an affair with the myserious Theresa, but is increasingly drawn to Elinor who is in turn resisting the attentions of Kit.

This complex but essentially shallow menage a quatre is blown apart by the first world war, as both Kit and Paul go to the front while Elinor fights to avoid any involvement in hostilities despite the impact on her family.

Paul and Elinor's relationship was deepening as war begun, and is consumated as she visits him in Belgium. However even as they are joined, their relationship is cracking apart as his horrific experiences as a medical orderly and ambulance driver and her detrmination to shut herslf away from the conflict drive them in different directions.

As ever with Pat Barker, Life Class is supremely readable. Her descriptions of place are as evocative as ever and her ability to create sexual tension remains strong.

The book also has some interesting things to say about the place of art in the world, especially at times of great turmoil. It is a valid exploration of differing experiences and circumstances can destroy relationships.

However at the end I just felt a bit disatisfied at the thinness of the story, the essential unpleasant shallowness of some of the main characters (Elinor in particular) and the rather threadbare narrative.

Its a good book, and well worth reading, but not in the same class as the Regeneration trilogy.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Worth reading for the pictures not the plot 7 Oct 2012
Can another novel be written about the First World War? Could Pat Barker write another one? Twelve years on from her Regeneration trilogy (conveniently republished and advertised on the back of the new novel), Pat Barker returned to her theme.

This time, it is worth reading for the pictures. It is the kind of novel that could be written ninety years after the event - describing two or three people whose response to Armageddon is to paint - because what we have left now is the pictures. They also drive ambulances, nurse the unnursable wounded, simply bear witness. Pat Barker is drawing too. The plot seems lightweight. We are not even sure we like the characters. But is simply enough to bear dramatic cinematography, shot after shot, a film script in waiting. It is a series of intense, closely shot short moments of emotion, colour, wounded human beings, the shelling of Ypres, London cafes, basement flats, gangrene, Vorticism, attacks on Anglo- Germans, the inside of a trench ambulance. The connection between suffering and painting was a real one too - and the characters here were taught by Tonks - the surgeon who became an artist who became a pioneering plastic surgeon.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not as strong as it might have been 10 Jun 2008
By Mr G
I was excited to learn of a new Pat Barker novel set during World War One, a subject she writes about so movingly. Unfortunately, I found "Life Class" only half-great, and the main problem was that I simply didn't care enough about the characters. Barker's extraordinary protrayal of both fictional and real-life characters in the "Regeneration" trilogy was one of the series' undoubted high-points, but it is sadly not replicated in this novel, where the characters just seem too shallow to warrant the reader's empathy. Most of the time they seem, quite frankly, rather annoying.

On the plus side, "Life Class" contains some astonishingly good writing - Barker's wonderful command of language and her ability to paint vivid scenes with a few words remain undiminished. As I read the book, I suspected that the best work would come in the scenes at the Front, and this proved to be the case. Barker's stark conjuring of a hellish world where violence and death are the norm is handled with great elan. It is in these chapters where she comes closest to the whole point of the novel, which is ordinary young people thrust into extraordinary historical circumstances.

So, I found the opening and closing episodes of this novel not as gripping as they might have been, but it is still worth reading if just for Barker's marvellous writing style and her evergreen respect and compassion for that sad, haunting "Lost Generation".
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Pat Barker's sensitive exploration of the devastating effects of The Great War on a group of artists from the Slade School of Art complements her similar exploration of the Great War from the point of view of the poets Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon in her Regeneration Trilogy, for which she won the 1995 Booker Prize. Examining the lives of art students Paul Tarrant, Elinor Brooke, and Kit Neville as they learn their craft, celebrate life by partying in the days leading up to the war, and eventually make life-altering decisions when war breaks out, Barker creates three worlds, the Before, During, and After of the war.

The superficiality of life Before, the horrors of During, and the disillusionment of After develop here through the interactions of these three characters with each other as the world around them changes--war as a Life Class. When Germany invades Russia and advances on France, Neville and Paul volunteer to drive ambulances for the Belgian Red Cross, and when Richard Lewis, a Quaker recruit becomes Paul's unexpected roommate in Ypres, Paul finds a studio in town where he can draw, and gain a little privacy. Lewis is as appalled as Paul is by the fact that there is no hospital, just a series of huts built around a goods yard, where doctors and nurses have no anesthetics, medications, or disinfectant, and where men lie on straw mats.

When Elinor naively decides to visit Paul, she arrives in Ypres only to have a sudden bombardment send her scurrying back home. In her first letter to Paul after her return home, she urges Paul to take a leave and return to England. "It would be go for a meal or [have] toasted crumpets by the fire.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Enthralling
There's something about Pat Barker's books. This was a departure from some of her earlier ones but still enthralling
Published 1 month ago by Dave Cole
5.0 out of 5 stars This was a beautifully written and descriptive book
This was a beautifully written and descriptive book. I enjoyed it, having read the other Pat Barker novels and particularly the associated one - Toby's Room'. Read more
Published 1 month ago by MrsVirginia R Porter
5.0 out of 5 stars Rea before Toby's Room
A wonderful account of the contribution artists made in World War ! by a superb author and you will want to read all her books.
Published 5 months ago by Mrs A. Steven
5.0 out of 5 stars Another important book from Pat Barker
Anyone who has read the Regeneration Trilogy (and I hope that is a lot of people) will enjoy this book. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Amazon Customer
3.0 out of 5 stars Bit boring
There's a story and some characters interesting but a bit irritating at times, I wouldn't pass on to my friends
Published 10 months ago by Rosemary Hunt
3.0 out of 5 stars semi-detached
It seems inevitable that an author who writes a masterpiece will be judged against it; In Pat barker's case she set the bar so high with Regeneration that it is practically... Read more
Published 13 months ago by Neil Carmichael
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
I read Toby's room and s o enjoyed it that had to go on to her other books. This is a sideways step from Toby's room still doing the art and same characters. Read more
Published 14 months ago by J. Weeks
5.0 out of 5 stars Life Class
I have read most of Pat Barkers books and Life Class is a clear winner. I recommend it to others who were involved with World Wars 1 and 2
Published 15 months ago by HBL
3.0 out of 5 stars Life Class by Pat Barker
Interesting at the start but I became less interested after the half way point when it moved into the war years. However, an easy, quick read.
Published 16 months ago by Beverley O'Sullivan
5.0 out of 5 stars A new look at the horrors of the trenches
Excellent, moving and convincing account of the catastrophy of WW1, but seen from a different point of view from the usual combatants' one
Published 17 months ago by Badamateur
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