Life Class Paperback – 7 Aug 2008
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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. She is the author of Union Street, Blow your House Down, The Century's Daughter, The Man Who Wasn't There, the Regeneration Trilogy (Regeneration, The Eye in the Door and The Ghost Road), Another World, Border Crossing, Double Vision, and the Life Class Trilogy (Life Class, Toby's Room and Noonday). Pat Barker lives in Durham.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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".
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.
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
My one star is not a comment on the author's wordsmanship. It is beautifully written, language wise, and I wish I could have finished it but alas I felt the story was going nowhere... Read morePublished 29 days ago by susan Stokes
Beautiful evocation of reactions to the First World War, and its effects on an interesting collection of art students from varied backgrounds. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Richard Byrne
I haven't finished reading this yet but am enjoying it so far - as I have the other books by this author. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Bella
Life Class is the first in a trilogy by Pat Barker, the author most known for her Regeneration series of novels. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Joy Isabella