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Toby's Room Audio Download – Unabridged

4.2 out of 5 stars 167 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Audio Download
  • Listening Length: 9 hours and 56 minutes
  • Program Type: Audiobook
  • Version: Unabridged
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Limited
  • Audible.co.uk Release Date: 31 July 2014
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00LVMPT66
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank:

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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.
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Format: 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.
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Format: 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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