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Toby's Room [Hardcover]

Pat Barker
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (130 customer reviews)

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Book Description

16 Aug 2012

In Toby's Room, Pat Barker revisits the First World War and the characters introduced in Life Class

When Toby is reported 'Missing, Believed Killed', another secret casts a lengthening shadow over Elinor's world: how exactly did Toby die - and why? Elinor determines to uncover the truth. Only then can she finally close the door to Toby's room. Moving from the Slade School of Art to Queen Mary's Hospital, where surgery and art intersect in the rebuilding of the shattered faces of the wounded, Toby's Room is a riveting drama of identity, damage, intimacy and loss. Toby's Room is Pat Barker's most powerful novel yet.

'Heart-rendering return to the Great War . . . On every level, Toby's Room anatomises a world where extreme emotion shatters the boundaries of identity, behaviour, gender. Through the mask of Apollo bursts an omnipresent Dionysus' Independent

'Once again Barker skilfully moves between past and present, seamlessly weaving fact and fiction into a gripping narrative' Sunday Telegraph

'A gripping and moving exploration of the lasting effects of war' Woman & Home

'A natural storyteller . . . the reader [will be] torn between wanting to linger over the sheer pleasure of the writing and the desire to rush towards the end to discover how it all pans out' Daily Mail

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 in 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.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Hamish Hamilton; First Edition edition (16 Aug 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0241144574
  • ISBN-13: 978-0241144572
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 16.2 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (130 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 138,007 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


Praise for "Life Class
"Beautiful and evocative . . . A coming-of-age story that transcends the individual and gestures to the fate of a generation."

"""Life Class" possesses organic power and narrative sweep . . . Barker conjures up the hellish terrors of war and its fallout with meticulous precision."
--Michiko Kakutani, "The New York Times

""Here, as in her best fiction, Barker unveils psychologically rich characters . . . and resists the trappings of a neat love story, reminding us once again that in art and life we remain infinitely mysterious."
--"San Francisco Chronicle

"Praise for the Regeneration Trilogy

"A masterwork . . . complex and ambitious."
--"The""New York Times Book Review"

"It has been Pat Barker's accomplishment to enlarge the scope of the contemporary English novel."
--"The New Yorker"

"A literary achievement . . . remarkable."
--"San Francisco Chronicle
"Some of the most powerful antiwar writing in modern fiction."
--" The Boston Globe" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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, Double Vision and Life Class. She lives in Durham. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
112 of 115 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling and Perceptively Observed 13 Aug 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Pat Barker's latest novel revisits the First World War and re-introduces the reader to some of the characters from her previous book: Life Class where we first met fictional artists from the Slade School of Fine Art: Paul Tarrant, Kit Neville and Elinor Brooke and the renowned and real life, Henry Tonks, a qualified surgeon and professor of drawing at the Slade. Although not strictly a sequel to 'Life Class', in this new novel we meet again the artist Elinor who, as a pacifist, eschews everything to do with war. She and her brother, Toby, are part of a very conventional family who keep things hidden from one another and from whom secrets must be kept, and Elinor and Toby have a very particular secret that must remain hidden. When Elinor receives notification that Toby, who has gone off to war as a Medical Officer, is 'Missing, Believed Killed' she finds it very difficult to accept that he is dead and she struggles to come to terms with the fact that she will never see him again. But Toby's death was not a straightforward ending on the battlefield, there is yet more mystery and secrecy surrounding his demise and Elinor needs to find the truth before she can accept his death and begin the grieving process.

There are some surprising revelations in this story which I have no wish to spoil for prospective readers, so I shall be careful here - to help her piece together Toby's last days and hours, Elinor enlists the help of Paul Tarrant and also their friend, Kit Neville, who has been tragically and severely facially disfigured at the front and is being treated at Queen Mary's Hospital in Sidcup. This part of the novel is particularly interesting, as it is at Queen Mary's that Henry Tonks works with Dr.
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40 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'Painting numbed the pain; nothing else did.' 14 Aug 2012
It is 1912, and Elinor Brooke is studying art at the Slade School of Art in London under the tutorage of Henry Tonks. There she befriends fellow art student Kit Neville, rather a difficult person, and somewhat of a ladies' man. Elinor's mother and sister are against her independence and her pursuing her studies. Toby, Elinor's brother and her closest friend, is supportive of her endeavours.

Then the story moves forward to 1917, with Britain at war, and the men away on the battlefields in France. Toby uses his medical experience to help the wounded there. News comes through to the Brooke family that Toby is missing.

Elinor is anxious to seek out the truth about her brother Toby's death during the war; 'She knew so little. What did 'Missing, Believed Killed' actually mean?' Despite writing several times to Kit in the hope of discovering more information as to how exactly Toby died, she receives no reply.

Kit Neville then returns from France. Through him the author conveys how the confusing memories and images of war can haunt the mind: 'All sorts of shadowy figures crossed the suburbs of Neville's mind, or crept out of the darkness and pressed in on him.'

Neville's face has been destroyed in the war, and Pat Barker writes with frank realism about the disfigured appearances of the men being treated for facial injuries sustained in battle. She describes what is necessary for us to comprehend the suffering of these men, and the work and techniques of Harold Gillies, the pioneering plastic surgeon at Queen Mary's Hospital in Sidcup, and she depicts the difficulty and pain endured by Neville trying to somehow come to terms with himself as he is now.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Falls short. 12 April 2013
By Pigwin
Pat Barker highlights the horrific reality of war but also, and more importantly as it is often neglected, the trauma of the mutilated and damaged soldiers who return and are patched up to the best of the ability of medical experts. However, I could not warm at all to the central character Elinor Brooke, a talented young artist at The Slade School of Art in London; she comes across as totally self-centred and completely lacking in empathy - apart from her obsessive quest to discover what happened to her brother, the eponymous Toby, who has been reported missing in combat.

This novel does get across the awful limbo in which the relatives of those soldiers missing presumed dead are trapped; sometimes waiting forever for closure.

My problem with Toby's Room is I found it really difficult to care about the characters with the possible exception of Kit Neville, who for me is far and away the most interesting and human person in the book.

It was interesting to read of the real-life character Professor Tonks, a noted surgeon and artist, who taught at the Slade School at the time. Tonks played his part in the reconstructive surgery carried out by doctors on soldiers returning from the front with hugely disfiguring facial wounds. He painted portraits of the victims' facial injuries and these portraits were, unsurprisingly, shocking. Pat Barker has interweaved real-life characters throughout other novels and it is something she does very well.

I would encourage others to read this book as it has a lot to offer but, failing to evoke in the reader, any empathy towards most of the main characters is, in my opinion, where Pat Barker falls short. Still I did like the bitter curmudgeon Kit Neville!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Too similar to Louisa Young's My Dear I wanted to tell you
I cannot believe that either writer has plagiarised the other, but much of the background to these two stories is too similar to be a coincidence. Read more
Published 7 days ago by Amazon Customer
3.0 out of 5 stars well written prose
I rather enjoyed Toby's Room. Pat Barker has a wonderful way with words and her descriptions bring the context to life. I didn't find this a 'riveting' read. Read more
Published 8 days ago by M. Oakley
3.0 out of 5 stars Toby's Room
I found the book interesting as I know quite a lot about the Slade artists who were tutored by Henry Tonks before and during WWI
but I think Pat Barker's Regeneration Trilogy... Read more
Published 8 days ago by D. Morant
2.0 out of 5 stars Not for me
This book was a Book Club choice, which was why I finished reading it. Also, I was interested to find out what did happen to Toby. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Mrs. B. D. Hollidge
5.0 out of 5 stars "Must read"
I wo

uld recommend this book to everyone. It is beautifully written and a very moving account of life in WW1. Headline "Must read "
Published 1 month ago by Mrs A. Steven
5.0 out of 5 stars Every picture tells a story!
Masterly crafted with brilliant sensitivity bringing-home the horrors of the Great War through a cast of intriguing well-drawn characters. Read more
Published 1 month ago by R. M. Greenfield
3.0 out of 5 stars Ok
Held my interest but not the best read ever
Would try another from author to get more informed opinion I think.
Published 1 month ago by Alisonjc
4.0 out of 5 stars Sad story
A continuation of sorts of the Pat Barkers trilogy, a great pleasure to read, and a very moving story.

There is a dark side too, that is suspensefully revealed. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Michael Ward
5.0 out of 5 stars Another excellent read
I became a committed fan of Pat Barker after reading The Regeneration Trilogy and have keenly read all she has written. Read more
Published 2 months ago by MrsS
5.0 out of 5 stars exceptional
typical Pat Barker exceptional script. hard to put down.
word perfect, written to excite and enthral for every reader. perfect
Published 2 months ago by Mikesdanes
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