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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well written but a bit thin
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...
Published on 15 Feb 2009 by P. G. Harris

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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
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...
Published on 10 Jun 2008 by Mr G


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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well written but a bit thin, 15 Feb 2009
By 
P. G. Harris - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Life Class (Paperback)
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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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
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This review is from: Life Class (Hardcover)
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
4.0 out of 5 stars "Leave your [deleted] compassion at the door, it's no use to anyone here.", 22 Mar 2008
By 
Mary Whipple (New England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Life Class (Paperback)
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 lovely...to go for a meal or [have] toasted crumpets by the fire."

Barker's imagery is vibrant and affecting, and her ability to show the reactions of callow young people to the horrors they see is memorable. Because she shows the same characters at three stages of their lives from 1914 through the war, the reader shares their changes and, in most cases, growth. The limitation of the book, however, may be that some readers will not care about the main characters as much as they want to, simply because the characters are so shallow and so young. The lives they lead in England are superficial lives, and the horrors of Ypres are so horrific that in many ways the young characters do not seem to comprehend them fully. Compartmentalizing is one thing, necessary for survival, but the long-term postwar effects on the characters who return are not examined fully, and those effects might have been the bigger story here. Mary Whipple
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Worth reading for the pictures not the plot, 7 Oct 2012
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Emily - London (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Life Class (Paperback)
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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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thank you, Pat Barker, 21 Sep 2008
This review is from: Life Class (Paperback)
I really enjoyed this book. Pat Barker knows her period well, but she never lets the weight of her research overpower the writing. This reader was drawn in from the first page (I'd put her in the Deborah Moggach class for the ability to hook the reader and make you really care about the characters and want to know what happens to them). Kit Neville is a bit of a cipher, but Paul Tarrant and Elinor are wholly rounded, alive and memorable. There were times when I had to put the book down for a while, so vivid and hard to bear was the pain. And yet, in the end, it's a story of love -- especially love of life -- and determination. The ending is perfect.
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20 of 25 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Same Old Same Old...., 20 Aug 2007
This review is from: Life Class (Hardcover)
I am rather sad that I cannot offer this novel more than 2 stars. I read Regeneration and loved it, the interplay of real life and fictional characters was absorbing. Barker tries that again here but with a differing institution, but for me this time it did not work as well.
There are moments when the use of language is amazing, where the horror of the first world war and the hopelessness of the soldiers makes you want to weep....'The world belongs to them, because they were on their way to die'. Barker is good at that, she knows her subject well. What lets this novel down is that this adds nothing new to the body of Barker's work. I fear now there will be a Life Class part 2.
It is time I think for Barker to move on.
If you love her work, please read this, but I am not sure this offers any more than Regeneration, and perhaps a lot less in respect of development.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars not up to the Renegeration trilogy level, 3 Feb 2008
By 
David W. Straight (knoxville, tennessee United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Life Class (Hardcover)
(from my amazon.com review)

Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy is a great work, truly deserving of 5 stars (or more!). I've sent copies to family and friends, and I have copies both at home and in the office for easy rereading. Life Class takes us back to WW I, but sadly the magic of the Regeneration trilogy just isn't there. As with Regeneration, there are scenes in London and of the war (behind the front, though, at first-aid stations). Regeneration did a brilliant job of meshing real characters (Rivers, Owen, Sassoon, Graves, etc) with fictional ones (Billy). Life Class has the real character Tonks (at the Strade), but his part is minor. Owen's work "Anthem for Doomed Youth" seems to exemplify Regeneration--there's a sense of similar foreboding over the trilogy, and we know from history that Owen is indeed doomed, and Sassoon and Graves lived. Life Class doesn't have a similar feeling.

In Regeneration, the threads of Rivers, Owen, Sassoon, Graves, and Billy continue and intertwine throughout the trilogy. In Life Class, Pat Barker as Atropos has cut lots of threads short--not through death, but by having what seem like important characters disappear from the picture. Things seem shallower--there's not the depth and richness that Regeneration has.

It may be that we've been spoiled by Regeneration: we expect Pat Barker's other novels to rise to that standard. But few WW I novels do rise to that standard--Under Fire, Her Privates We, Paths of Glory, and not many others. I have a nagging feeling that if Pat Barker had not written Regeneration, I might perhaps have given Life Class 4 stars. It's decent, but not great, and 8-10 years from now I might reread it. But I reread Regeneration every couple of years, and I have 3-4 copies of the trilogy books--I worry about wanting to read them and not being able to find them. So Life Class is a decent read, and probably better if you aren't thinking about Regeneration as you read it
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5.0 out of 5 stars Rea before Toby's Room, 18 Mar 2014
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This review is from: Life Class (Paperback)
A wonderful account of the contribution artists made in World War ! by a superb author and you will want to read all her books.
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3.0 out of 5 stars art of war and war of art, 2 Nov 2008
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purpleheart (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Life Class (Paperback)
'They'd been drawing for over half an hour. There was no sound except for the skimming of pencils on Michallet paper or the barely perceptible squeak of charcoal.'

Barker is masterly at evoking time and place and here she moves from the life class at the Slade to the life class of WW1. The characters in the novel are of different social classes and this impacts their approach to art and the role they take in the conflict.

It's also a love story - of star crossed lovers whose lives become very different because of the war. One character does become an artist but is not commercially successful, one becomes a satellite of the Boomsbury group. The tone is essentially melancholic - dashed ambitions and couples in bed making love but we know they won't be living happily ever after.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed, 8 Sep 2008
By 
Gorodish (Newcastle, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Life Class (Paperback)
I haven't read a Barker novel since 'The Ghost Road', and was attracted to this by the notices, which said it was her best effort since that novel. A return to familiar territory, it begins just as WW1 is about to begin, at London's Slade School of Art. Paul Tarrant, a Northerner who is living from an inheritance fund, entertains grave doubts about his artistic abilities. He becomes infatuated with a fellow student Elinor, but begins an affair with Teresa, an artist's model. When war breaks out, Paul tries to enlist, is refused on health grounds, but joins up as a medical orderly. Paul and Elinor becomes lovers and she joins him, briefly, for a few days in the town of Ypres, just as the town is bombarded. When Elinor returns, she becomes an associate of the anti-war Bloomsbury set, while Paul encounters the horror of the front, and is wounded. He returns to London, where he and Elinor negotiate the nature of their relationship.
Although I kept reading to the end, I remained unsatisfied by this novel. Barker has covered this ground before, so I could not see the point of the story, except perhaps as the pretext of a rather half-hearted meditation upon the role of art in times of war. (In the novel, Paul paints the horror he sees, while Elinor refuses to do so, insisting that such horrors entrap the 'true' nature of life.) After touching upon such topics, the novel just seems to stop, as if the author had simply abandoned it - in the same way that a number of the characters simply abandon their paintings and drawings. Have I failed to pick up on something here? The problem is that the book does not give me enough motivation to attempt to think it through...well-written enough, and good for a journey, or a wet weekend, but not a corker.
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Life Class
Life Class by Pat Barker (Hardcover - 21 April 2007)
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