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Life Class by Pat Barker

Life Class (original 2007; edition 2009)

by Pat Barker

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7253912,951 (3.47)95
Title:Life Class
Authors:Pat Barker
Info:Anchor (2009), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 320 pages
Collections:Your library

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Life Class by Pat Barker (2007)



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English (36)  Dutch (2)  Danish (1)  All languages (39)
Showing 1-5 of 36 (next | show all)
Although a BIG fan of Barker's Regeneration trilogy, which situated her as a master among WWI themed novelists, I found Life Class only moderately interesting. I have a feeling that Barker could have written this novel with one hand tied behind her back. In other words, she is definitely not stretching here nor exploring new territory. And for a novel that is all about the characters (in fact, I would have liked to read a bit more about the goings on in the London artistic milieu of the era), I didn't care about them much. WWI trench warfare in Belgium was gruesome and medical facilities primitive. I KNOW that already. Ambiguous gender relationships were common among the artists, writers, etc.of the era. I KNOW that already. And it is Barker herself who contributed to my sense of those times. So. Don't show me quite the same thing in the same way all over again. ( )
  Paulagraph | May 25, 2014 |
In Life Class, Pat Barker explores the nexus between art and war. The first half of the book concerns three young people studying in a prestigious art school in London. These students are suffering from the anxieties typical of youth. Class barriers, the pressures of the school's demands, their professional futures, and ever at the forefront, their sexual desires? They spend their time going from class to cafe to night club ignoring the war clouds on the horizon. When it becomes impossible to ignore, it presents a way to question the purpose of art given such death and destruction. Each character finds a different way to answer the question.

The second half of the book takes us into the hell of war in the front line hospitals and the trenches of World War I. Each young friend must find their own way through this dreadful time. Along the way they will find themselves leaving their former selves behind. The core of this book is how people are changed by what they see, how they behave, and how their relationships will survive, or not. Good book. ( )
  m2snick | Feb 19, 2014 |
I haven't read much fiction set during WWI and I thought the juxtaposition of the war front and the art school was very interesting and promising. The setting did come alive: the isolation of the art world and the horror of the battlefield hosptial are both well drawn. Unfortunately, the characters did not seem to come alive. They were interesting but I never felt a sense of compassion or even liking for them. And the ending, perhaps, reflects that is how they felt about each other. ( )
1 vote maryreinert | Aug 17, 2013 |
This book was so unexpected! Set during WWI, our main characters first meet attending an art school in London before the war begins. During the war we see how each character reacts both personally and through their art to the horrors of the war and the social demands for both males and females- males the incredible pressure to join up and ladies the pressure to become nurses or at the very least organize bandage rolling groups, or some other form of activism. Ultimately, we follow the love triangle lived out between three of the art students. The author's tendency to imply circumstances, to leave things unsaid and the abrupt ending to the novel all reminded me of Hemingway's style. I enjoyed the slow unfolding of this story and the intensity the characters felt in trying to define themselves and their art.
  amielisa | Jul 8, 2013 |
Like Pat Barker’s hugely successful Regeneration trilogy ‘Life Class’ is set just before and during the First World War. As the novel opens Paul Tarrant an art student studying at the Slade School of art takes his place in the life drawing class tutored by the difficult Henry Tonks. Paul has a tough time under Tonks, leading him to even question his talent in his frustration. Paul and his artistic friends spend many evenings at the Café Royal, where he is introduced to Teresa, a beautiful troubled young woman, who Paul soon becomes involved with. In the background however, is Elinor Brooke another Slade student who is admired by both Paul and fellow artist Kit Neville. Paul is a lesser artist than Kit and Elinor, both of whom seem to be teetering on the brink of brilliance.
As tensions in Europe rise, Elinor invites both Paul and Kit to spend some time with her family at their home, but Elinor is reticent of getting too involved with Kit who wants to marry her, and knows that Paul is also attracted to her – but she keeps them both at arm’s length. Elinor is a modern young woman, shockingly short haired she is unconventional in many ways and doesn’t dream of the traditional role of wife and mother that other young women content themselves with. For Elinior is serious about her art, and anxious not to end up like her mother and sister. When war comes Elinor wants only to continue with her art, she prefers to ignore the war as much as possible, despite her brother Toby enlisting and going off to France.
With the outbreak of hostilities, and unable to serve in the army, both Paul and Kit Neville find themselves in Belgium, as Red Cross volunteers. Here Paul works with men dreadfully injured, many of whom don’t survive their injuries. Paul and the people he works alongside have an impossible task – by the time the injured arrive at their station their wounds are already infected – they are in fact fighting their own losing battle. There is a soldier so desperate he tries to shoot himself, failing to kill himself, he is patched up, so that later he can be shot for desertion. A frustrated and enraged surgeon kicks an amputated limb across the operating room. These are not pretty images, but they are powerful. Pat Barker’s writing about World War I is uncompromising and unforgettable.
“But then, that's the question. Should you even pause to consider your own reactions? These men suffer so much more than he does, more than he can imagine. In the face of their suffering, isn't it self-indulgent to think about his own feelings? He has nobody to talk to about such things and blunders his way through as best he can. If you feel nothing -this is what he comes back to time and time again -you might just as well be a machine, and machines aren't very good at caring for people. There's something machine-like about a lot of the professional nurses here. Even Sister Byrd, whom he admires, he looks at her sometimes and sees an automaton. Well, lucky for her, perhaps. It's probably more efficient to be like that. Certainly less painful.”
When new recruit Lewis arrives, without the matter of fact cynicism that Paul has acquired, he is accommodated in Paul’s hut, and therefore under his wing. Paul finds this responsibility irritating, and the sharing of his space difficult – wanting somewhere where he could at least theoretically paint on his days off. Paul rents a room in the small nearby town, and invites Elinor to stay, for a short time. Here their relationship naturally moves on a pace. However the war encroaches and Elinor must leave suddenly – and return to the safety of England.
The longer Paul stays in Belgium, tending to the horribly injured, later driving ambulances – leaving injured men he cannot accommodate in the road, even dealing with piles of dead bodies – the more of himself he seems to lose. The distance between he and Elinor seems greater as her letters become less frequent, and the world he once inhabited seems a long way away. Back in London Elinor has joined a group of pacifists and conscientious objectors led by society hostess Lady Ottoline Morrell. As letters pass between the two lovers it becomes apparent that neither can fully understand the world of the other.
After the bombardment of Ypres, Paul begins to see the world very differently, on his return to London, Paul must determine whether his experiences have changed him completely – and where, if anywhere, he now fits.
I found Life Class a compelling and powerful novel, Pat Barkers descriptions of injured men, and the bombardment of Ypres transport the reader to Belgium in the early days of World War I. The novel’s opening in the months before the outbreak of war, the frivolity, flirting and possibilities that life offers these young people contrast starkly with what comes later. I now cannot wait to read the sequel Toby’s Room which I have on my kindle. ( )
  Heaven-Ali | May 12, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 36 (next | show all)
This is a lusty tale, and Barker is careful not to let historical research derail momentum. The narrative buoyancy is also due to Barker’s sense of sight, fitting for a story about the painter’s gaze: light is “lemony”; eyes are “the colour of infected phlegm”; sunbathing men are “starfish shapes.”

» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Barker, Patprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bekker, Jos denTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Book description
It is the spring of 1914 and a group of students at the Slade School of Art have gathered for a life-drawing class. Paul Tarrant is intrigued by fellow student Elinor Brooke. But when it becomes clear that painter Kit Neville is also attracted to her, Paul withdraws into a reckless affair with an artist's model. Then, as war commences, Paul and Elinor each reach a crisis in their relationships, and they turn to each other. Working for the Belgian Red Cross, Paul tends to the mutilated, dying soldiers from the front line. But when he returns, Paul faces the overwhelming challenge of how to express all that he has experienced, and the fact that life and love will never be the same again.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385524358, Hardcover)

From the Booker Prize–winning author of The Regeneration Trilogy, an acknowledged masterpiece of modern fiction, Life Class is an exceptional new novel of artists and lovers caught in the maelstrom of the Great War.

It is the spring of 1914 and a group of young students have gathered in an art studio for a life-drawing class. Paul Tarrant and Elinor Brooke are two parts of an intriguing love triangle and, in the first days of war, they turn to each other. As spring turns to summer, Paul volunteers for the Belgian Red Cross and tends to wounded, dying soldiers from the front line. By the time he returns, Paul must confront the fact that life and love will never be the same for him again.

In Life Class, Pat Barker returns to her most renowned subject: the human devastation and psychic damage wrought by World War One on all levels of British society. Her skill in relaying the harrowing experience of modern warfare is matched by the depth of insight she brings to the experience of love and the morality of art in a time of war. Life Class is one of her genuine masterpieces.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:49:51 -0400)

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"It is the spring of 1914 and a group of young students have gathered in an art studio for a life-drawing class. Paul Tarrant and Elinor Brooke are two parts of an intriguing love triangle, and in the first days of war, they turn to each other. As spring turns to summer, Paul volunteers for the Belgian Red Cross and tends to wounded and dying soldiers from the front line. By the time he returns, Paul must confront the fact that life and love will never be the same for him again." "In Life Class, Pat Barker returns to her most renowned subject: the human devastation and psychic damage wrought by the First World War on all levels of British society."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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