Toby has always protected his sister, Elinor, their bond closer than they can acknowledge. Then comes war, and in 1917 on a French battlefield Toby is reported 'Missing, Believed Killed'.
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.
Fans of Barker's Regeneration trilogy know she has a gift for combining real and imagined characters, for making you see the horrors of war, and for knowing that people don't stop having sex or being themselves because there's a war on. This story, which revisits the characters of Barker's last novel, Life Class, and is also set before and during WWI, features some of these traits, but, alas, without the fierce immediacy that made the trilogy so memorable. The titular Toby is painter Elinor Brooke's brother; they're close, problematically so; when news comes that he's "missing, believed dead," the need to know what happened takes over Elinor. In time, it reconnects her to Kit Neville, part of Toby's team of medics, and Paul Tarrant, soldiers and war artists who were her fellow students, and, in Paul's case, her former lover. Part mystery, part exploration of the varieties and vagaries of love and grief, part a description of British efforts to devise prosthetics and document the worst injuries, the book covers a lot of ground-perhaps too much. Readers may not feel the same urgency that Elinor does, and the eventual solution to the mystery, coming as it does amid all the other themes, doesn't pack the necessary punch. Agent: Gillon Aitken, Aitken Alexander Associates. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Praise for Toby's Room "Barker...has pursued [World
War I] through a remarkable series of novels: the much-admired
"Regeneration" trilogy...Life Class and now Toby's
Room.... [T]hese novels go far beyond a demonstration of the
powers of the historical imagination. Like most good works of
fiction, they're not so much about the events they depict as about
the resonance of those events, the way certain actions ripple
through people's lives.... Toby's Room takes large risks.
It's dark, painful and indelibly grotesque, yet it is also tender.
It strains its own narrative control to create in the midst of an
ordinary life a kind of deformed reality--precisely to illustrate
how everything we call 'ordinary' is disfigured by war. And it
succeeds brilliantly."-- John Vernon, New York Times Book
"[T]he writing is lucid and often beautiful."--Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly
"A tantalizing and moving return to wartime London."--Joanna Scutts, Washington Post "You get a glimpse inside Toby's room in Pat Barker's poignant novel of the same name, but what you remember are three real and very different English landmarks -- the Slade, London's prestigious art academy; Cafe Royal, frequented by the likes of Oscar Wilde, Winston Churchill and Virginia Woolf; and the Queen's Hospital, opened in 1917 to serve injured British soldiers in need of facial reconstruction.... No one evokes England in all its stiff-upper-lip gritty wartime privation like Barker. She is as uncompromising as Henry Tonks, as determined to render an honest portrayal of war. She will not allow us to sweep it out of sight.... [She] sets the bar high."--Ellen Kanner, Miami Herald "Haunting and complicated sibling love is at the heart of Pat Barker's Great War novel.... [T]he precision of Ms. Barker's writing shows her again to be one of the finest chroniclers of both the physical and psychological disfigurements exacted by the First World War."--Wall Street Journal "Barker deftly fused fact and fiction in her hugely impressive "Regeneration Trilogy" by turning the war poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen into integral characters. She continues this blending in Toby's Room.... [It] is in many ways Barker's most ambitious novel to date.... As ever, the war scenes, and the accounts of the broken men who inhabit them, are, by turn, gripping and unsettling. However, in with the carnage and the trauma are those expert passages on art as something both reflective and redemptive. This is a powerful book that chronicles in various ingenious ways, and from certain unique perspectives, 'the poignancy of a young life cut short.'"--Malcolm Forbes, San Francisco Chronicle "A Pat Barker novel...is a novel that deals in some way with the horrors of World War One, and it's a also a novel about art, but mostly it's a novel about how art attempts to depict the horrors of World War One. And this is how a Pat Barker novel attempts to depict the horrors of World War One: bluntly."--Brock Clark, Boston Globe
"[A]lthough Toby's Room is not billed as a prequel or sequel to Life Class and the reader need not be familiar with that novel in order to get to grips with this... [t]hose who do know Barker's previous work will be struck by recurrences and continuations in this novel not only of events in Life Class, but in Regeneration, too.... [Barker's] prose remains fresh, humanely business-like, crisp and unsentimental. Images are scrupulously vivid, and the plot has real momentum."--Freya Johnston, Telegraph (London) "A driving storyline and a clear eye, steadily facing the history of our world.... For Barker, the wounded faces of the soldier-victims are realities, and also emblems of what must never be forgotten or evaded about war, and must continue - in her plain, steady, compelling voice - to be turned into art."--Hermione Lee, Guardian (London)
Praise for Life Class
"Beautiful and evocative . . . A coming-of-age story that transcends the individual and gestures to the fate of a generation."
--People "Life Class possesses organic power and narrative sweep . . . Barker conjures up the hellish terrors of war and its fallout with meticulous precision."
--Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times "Here, as in her best fiction, Barker unveils psychologically rich characters . . . and resists the trappings of a neat love story, reminding us once again that in art and life we remain infinitely mysterious."
--San Francisco Chronicle Praise for the Regeneration Trilogy "A masterwork . . . complex and ambitious."
--The New York Times Book Review "It has been Pat Barker's accomplishment to enlarge the scope of the contemporary English novel."
--The New Yorker "A literary achievement . . . remarkable."
--San Francisco Chronicle
"Some of the most powerful antiwar writing in modern fiction."
-- The Boston Globe