2008: 82. Life Class

“They’d been drawing for over half an hour.  There as no sound except the slurring of pencils on Michelet paper or the barely perceptible squeak of charcoal.”

Life Class, Pat Barker

Life Class is by Pat Barker, whose Regeneration trilogy is one of my very favorite books - a world class, Booker-Prize winning series about World War One, which combines the lives of real life individuals like Sigfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen with fiction characters to explore the hell of that war.  This book returns to similar territory, telling the story of three art students, Paul Tarrant, Elinor Brook and Neville (something - I returned the book to the library and forget his last name) who are all studying at the Slade Art school in the years before World War One.  Unfortunately, this book doesn’t live up to her earlier work at all.  The book is disjointed, the characters only marginally interesting, and the story goes nowhere.  The beginning part, before the war is reasonably interesting - a love triangle of sorts ensues between the three, and the part where each is figuring out their place as an artists and humans in Edwardian society seems intriguing.  Then the war starts, and the thing falls apart - Neville falls out of the book almost entirely.  Paul goes off to war as an ambulance driver (his health prevents him from enlisting), and those parts are excellent - Barker can sure write about World War One, and the horror of that war.  But then Elinor, who was mildly interesting as wild young woman decides that she will just ignore the war and focus on art, and is so strident about it that she destroys her relationship with Paul.  And I get that Barker wanted to show that the war was destructive, but Elinor’s behavior just doesn’t ring true, so the whole ending of the book is hollow - we don’t care about Elinor or their relationship, so who cares what happens to them?  A real disappointment after Barker’s earlier work.


Date/Place Completed: 6/20/08; D.C.

Categories: Fiction; Library Book

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017