Top critical review
13 people found this helpful
on 12 April 2013
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!