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115 of 118 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling and Perceptively Observed
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...
Published on 13 Aug 2012 by Susie B

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Falls short.
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...
Published 16 months ago by Pigwin


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115 of 118 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling and Perceptively Observed, 13 Aug 2012
By 
Susie B - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Toby's Room (Hardcover)
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. Harry Gillies and his team as they develop pioneering approaches to reconstructing facial injuries sustained by soldiers fighting at the front, and Pat Barker's writing of this is detailed, sensitive and very involving. As we read through the story we discover that although those around Toby think they knew him, there were parts of his life that they knew nothing about at all. Toby's hidden life and of how he meets his death is finally revealed to the reader in a rather dramatic and crucial scene - but I shall leave the detail for prospective readers to discover for themselves.

When I first read the title to this novel, it immediately made me think of Virginia Woolf's 'Jacob's Room' (which was inspired by Woolf's brother Thoby) and there is a similarity in that with Jacob and with Toby we mostly get to know them through the minds of the other characters in the story; but the content of this novel and Pat Barker's writing style is quite different to Virginia Woolf's. I enjoyed Barker's last novel which, like 'Toby's Room', examines the role of art and artists in a time of conflict and I was very much looking forward to the arrival of this new book which does not disappoint. I find Pat Barker's writing direct, insightful and perceptively observed and this novel, like many of her books, has a strong narrative drive; I read this story in one sitting and found it a very compelling and thought-provoking read about art and identity, love and loyalty, intolerance and discrimination and about the brutal and far-reaching consequences of war.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Falls short., 12 April 2013
This review is from: Toby's Room (Paperback)
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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41 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'Painting numbed the pain; nothing else did.', 14 Aug 2012
By 
L. H. Healy "Books are life, beauty and truth." (Cambridgeshire, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Toby's Room (Hardcover)
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.

Kit is still reluctant to reveal anything more to Elinor about Toby's death, so Elinor turns to her former love Paul Tarrant, another art student, and asks for his help speaking to Kit. She seeks some form of closure regarding Toby, some way to even begin to move on from his death, having been such a key part of her life, and sharing a dark secret.

The author illustrates how art becomes linked with the surgery being undertaken to reconstruct the damaged faces of the soldiers. A record is being created of those wounded, with Elinor becoming involved in these portraits. I felt moved by the immense courage of the soldiers, and feel that the author writes both authoritatively and compassionately about the mental and physical scars of war.

The inclusion of real people from this period in history, Henry Tonks and Harold Gillies, adds weight to the authenticity of the story's backdrop, and caused me to read more about them and their work after finishing the novel.

I was struck at times by the beauty and aptness of the prose; the following passage in particular stood out for me, when relating how Paul views the countryside and weather back home, his impressions all bear the stamp of the war:

'Everything he saw, everything he felt, seemed to be filtered through his memories of the front line, as if a think wash had been laid over his perceptions of this scene. Columns of sleety rain marched across the fields while, in the distance, grey clouds massed for another attack.'

I felt for Paul as he seeks to find a place for himself in Elinor's heart, wondering if this is a lost cause.

A fascinating, intelligent and beautifully written historical portrait of people and relationships, war and destruction, love and loss, under the shadow and impact of the First World War.

In Toby's Room, the author revisits characters that featured in her earlier novel Life Class, though I would add that a reading of that is not necessary to understand and enjoy this novel.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully crafted depiction of the emotional aftermath of war, 18 Aug 2013
This review is from: Toby's Room (Paperback)
Surely Pat Barker's specialist subject, the painful trauma of the effect of war - Toby's Room has a smaller scope than her Regeneration trilogy, but is nontheless powerfully affecting. Shifting between past and present, it traces the journey of Elinor, seeking clues and a solution to her brother's unresolved history. Although the novel seems a little quiet, what is striking on reading again is that even the most apparently straightforward scene is infused with tension and pain. The sense and tone of the book lives with you much longer than the turn of the final page.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not for me..., 27 Oct 2013
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This review is from: Toby's Room (Kindle Edition)
I read this because I had to for my reading group. I don't know why but I just couldn't engage with any of the characters and for the life of me I don't understand what the relevance of the implied intimacy between Elinor and Toby has to the plot. But everyone else loved it so I have given it 3 stars, not least because it was an easy read and some parts were interesting for example the hospital scenes.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very well-written xxx, 23 July 2013
By 
Megan ReadingInTheSunshine (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Toby's Room (Paperback)
This book really intrigued me, and although it was originally the cover that grabbed my attention at first, the blurb had me captivated. This story revolves around Toby and Elinor, brother and sister, who share many secrets together, including ones that must remain hidden. When Toby is reported `missing, believed killed' in war, Elinor feels as though there are more secrets...What happened to Toby? Enlisting the help of Paul, Elinor is determined to find out the truth about Toby....

I really enjoyed this story. I've always been a fan of war-related stories. Ever since I was young, my dad has always taken me to war museums, and in the last five years we've visited war museums, beaches and memorials in France together, so from an early age I've always taken an interest in it.

I can't say too much about the story because otherwise I will give away important plot points, but it is a gripping and emotional story. Throughout there are many surprises revealed as the reader goes on a journey of discovery with Elinor, and so as you read the story things begin to come together.

Pat Barker has brilliantly and expertly written a story detailing not only the physical effects of war but also the mental effects. The descriptions are gripping to read, and Pat conveys the devastating effects that war has on everyone.

Toby's room is a novel that any historical fans or readers looking for war books will be interested in. Pat Barker explores war and destruction, relationships, love and loss in this complex story.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Pat Barker-esque, 15 Jun 2013
This review is from: Toby's Room (Kindle Edition)
If you liked Regeneration, the chances are you will enjoy Toby's Room. Whilst quite different in focus, this novel deals with similar central themes; loss, sexuality, and the physical and psychological consequences of a war that we still fail to comprehend today. And, of course, Barker's writing style never fails to engage and to impress.
The research and understanding that underlines this novel is once again outstanding, particularly in regards to facial reconstruction, akin to that of The Officer's Ward by Marc Dugain. And I found the subplot of Elinor's studies of the human body an interesting complement to the central plot. Of course not the first novel to explore the relationship between war and art, Toby's Room looks at the aesthetics of war and of the human form.
However, if you're looking for a novel which concerns itself wholly with life at the front or with the soldier's plight then this perhaps is not for you. Of course this backdrop is ever present, as we begin to unfold the mystery of Toby's fate. But Toby's Room immerses itself in those characters back in England; the women left behind, and the injured. Their search for purpose, for forgiveness, and for truth.
I found this a compelling and moving read, and a refreshing perspective on a much-told story of a missing soldier. If you love WW1 fiction, you'll love Toby's Room.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars World War 1 revisited, 24 April 2013
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This review is from: Toby's Room (Kindle Edition)
Pat Barker wrote the best ever - and that's from a very wide field- novel about the 1st World War, in 'Regeneration', so the other, later, engagements with the subject are invariably slightly disappointing. 'Toby's Room' is one of these. Without the comparison, though, it's an extraordinarily knowledgable, well crafted and nuanced text. It deals with the emotional damage and interpersonal ruptures that the war has bought about, directly and indirectly and how 'damaged' people manage the war. She writes, as always, utterly convincing characters: flawed, unreliable as narrators, both sympathetic and unlikable: - the contradictions that make up whole identities. 'Toby' is the ghost in the book and the ghost shadow in his sister's paintings , only understood through the eyes of others who try to piece together his war time biography. The world of contemporary paining, from pre-war student life at the Slade, to art in war time, is the context : - returned to after her 2007 novel 'Life Class' set out some of the themes and many of the characters revisited here. Art in the service of, and impacted on, by the war is the language through which the characters connect. It's a good novel: it allows spaces for the reader to think, plays no tricks -though the introduction of the 'real' Bloomsbury set has a dissonance I think - and shields us from nothing: Pat Barker in every way. It's very good- well worth reading, but don't expect Rivers and Prior.
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3.0 out of 5 stars For me the novel did not hang together, 9 Aug 2014
By 
M. F. Cayley (Hampshire, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Toby's Room (Audio CD)
I find this a hard book to review. It moves from incest through the development of a female artist to some of the horrors of WW1. Stylistically, it is very well done, but I am not sure the novel really hangs together. For me, it was as if Pat Barker couldn't decide where the main focus of the novel should be. There was a section involving the Bloomsbury Group which seemed rather divorced from the rest of the book. It was in the graphic descriptions of WW1 - the trench warfare and the facial surgery on some of the wounded - that it came most alve. I felt the incest was an unnecessary bolt-on. The story is told from two main viewpoints - the female artist's, and someone she and her brother know who is appallingly wounded - and the split between these viewpoints contributed to my sense that the novel did not really cohere.
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3.0 out of 5 stars 2.5 stars? Overall - disappointing, 9 Aug 2014
This review is from: Toby's Room (Kindle Edition)
Not sure about this one. It didn't pull me in the way a good book usually does. I found the characters a bit irritating and didn't really see the point of the book. All that is in here has been done before and much better. I don't feel that this novel adds anything to the WW1 genre.

I have to say that I was looking forward to reading it, partly because Pat Barker is a good writer and partly because of the subject matter. My mother's stepfather was involved in early prosthetics and I thought it would give me a bit of an insight into the type of work he did, but it didn't. That part of the story felt in some way like an afterthought, not an integral part of the story.

Oh, and I read a tree book not purchased through Amazon.
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Toby's Room
Toby's Room by Pat Barker (Paperback - 7 Feb 2013)
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