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Noonday by Pat Barker
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Noonday

by Pat Barker

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Noonday is the final installment in Barker's Life Class trilogy (the second book is Toby's Room. The first novel followed art school students Elinor Brooke, Paul Tarrant, and Kit Neville as they face the outbreak of World War I; the second continues as Kit and Elinor's brother Toby hit the front lines, Paul signs on as a medic, and Elinor employs her artistic talent to help shape new faces for war-damaged veterans. Noonday jumps ahead to the London Blitz. Elinor and Paul have married, both work as artists, and they have a house in London that Elinor loves. As the novel opens, she is staying with her sister Rachel in the country, attending her mother's death watch. Both Paul and Elinor have volunteered in the war efforts, she as an ambulance driver, he assisting in rescue efforts. Paul visits the country house on weekends and forms an attachment with Kenny, an odd ginger-haired boy, one of the many children sent away from the city for safety. As for Kit, he is employed by Kenneth Clark's War Artists Advisory Committee--and he is still in love with Elinor.

Barker paints a devastating picture of the Blitz and the damage it did to buildings, bodies, and psyches. Giving us insights into characters involved in the rescue efforts brings even more horrors to the fore. Kenny's story is particularly touching, and Barker gives us another interesting character in Bertha, an overweight medium fulfilling people's need to connect with lost sons, husbands, and fathers. She also explores the dynamics of Elinor's strained family relations and her less-than-perfect marriage.

I would recommend reading the first two novels before this one as it will help you to understand the relationships among the various characters. ( )
1 vote Cariola | Jun 21, 2018 |
The final part of a wartime trilogy, revisiting Elinor, Paul and Kit twenty years later, during the Second World War. I only wish I'd known that before reading this novel first and failing to connect with any of the characters! And of course Pat Barker once again conjures up powerful and poignant imagery of the 'home front', from the destruction of air raids to the strained ordinariness of everyday life.

The story begins with a young London lad, Kenny, who is evacuated from the bomb-ravaged city to the country, staying with Elinor's sister Rachel. When he tries to runaway, fearful for his mother and younger siblings, Paul agrees to take him home. Reunited with his family, who have been bombed out of their home, Kenny finds temporary sanctuary in a school air raid shelter, along with hundreds of his neighbours. I knew what was coming, having seen a programme about Hallsville Junior School, and how the true number of those killed was hushed up for years after the war. A thrilling introduction, but unfortunately, the rest of the novel is more or less a series of wartime horror stories pinned together by three very dull characters - without having read the previous two instalments, anyway. Barker recounts enough of the backstory to allow Noonday to stand alone, but I wasn't really interested in Paul and Elinor's failing middle class marriage, or the odious Kit's longing for his friend's wife. Bertha the northern 'spuggie', or spiritualist, was quite interesting, but nothing really happens with that thread of the story.

I might go back and read Life Class and Toby's Room, because I enjoyed the Regeneration trilogy, but not for Paul, Kit or Elinor's sake. ( )
  AdonisGuilfoyle | May 12, 2018 |
An odd mixture. Pat Barker's books are always interesting and populated by memorable characters, but I couldn't help finding this one a little disappointing, at least compared to the first two parts of this trilogy. This one takes the characters from Life Class and Toby's Room and moves them forward to their middle age in the London blitz. Much of the writing, particularly the descriptions of the bombing and its aftermath is very powerful, but I felt the book was a little let down by a subplot involving a "spuggie" (Geordie slang for a holder of seances) that was never entirely resolved, at least from a rationalist perspective. Still worth reading, but not quite her best work. ( )
  bodachliath | Aug 10, 2016 |
Setting a personal love story amidst the chaos of the World War II London Blitz and making it believable shows the skill of Barker as an author. The dust, the grit, the fires, the fear are all there but so are the emotions and loves of a husband and wife who along with a good artist friend live in London during the Blitz. If nothing else, you finish the book with a sense of the tenacity of the British during the war, incorporating the fire bombings into their lives yet understand the words “Keep calm and carry on.” Personal tragedies and triumphs rise amidst the smoke and fire. ( )
  brangwinn | Jul 7, 2016 |
The third in the trilogy about Elinor Brooke, Paul Tarrant and Kit Neville, Noonday moves from the end of World War I to the 1940 Blitz time in London. Elinor and Paul have married and both are engaged, along with Kit, as ambulance drivers and wardens responding to the casualties brought about by the night time bombings by the Nazis. Paul is still experiencing the after effects of a war injury to his knee. Kit received a disfiguring facial wound in WWI that even after many surgeries is grotesque. Elinor suffers deeply still from the loss of her brother Toby in the trenches.

Elinor and Paul have had some success as artists; Elinor has some work in the Tate Gallery. Kit is less successful and is better known as an art critic. Both Elinor and Paul are commissioned by Kenneth Clark to paint war-inspired thematic paintings, but Kit's work is ignored by the artistic elite and he is bitter over this.

Elinor's relations with her family are still strained and the book opens as she returns to the country home to attend to her mother's death. The family had taken in a child, Kenny, who was relocated from the war zone to the safety of the country side. Kenny is a bit of an odd child who obsesses about reuniting with his mother who appears to have lost interest in him. Kenny persuades Paul to take him back to London to see his mother. Shortly after they connect up Kenny and his mother, step-father and sister are moved to a basement shelter that receives a direct hit killing everyone inside. Paul is grief-stricken by this and seeks solace through a medium who claims she can contact Kenny. Paul doesn't believe this is possible, but still hangs on to the hope.

Kit Neville has long been in love with Elinor. Elinor has never gotten over the loss of Toby in the trenches. The recollection of the one-time incestuous relation between Toby and Elinor as young people is remembered vividly by Elinor. Kit had had a somewhat mysterious connection with Toby's death and his reticence to reveal this to Elinor has long troubled her.

Elinor's and Paul's marriage is deteriorating. Their flat is destroyed by the bomb and Elinor moves to the family's country cottage. Paul makes little effort to find a new place for the two of them and strikes up a shallow affair with a co-worker from his rescue squad. Elinor discovers the tryst and moves back to London to a flat of her own. Neville visits Elinor and they have sex, more a reaction on her part as she has no deep feelings about Kit. Paul becomes aware of Kit's episode with Elinor that sparks jealousy and a near violent encounter between he and Kit. Kit visits Elinor again and after being rebuffed he rapes her. Kit is killed in the collapse of a bombed building. Paul and Elinor make tepid attempts to reconcile; one thinks this will never be too successful. By the end of the novel, Elinor has a chance encounter with Kenny who had escaped the basement shelter before the collapse. This brings a ray of optimism that lives so disrupted by the Blitz will eventually be restored.

This is a story of emotional dissolution told through the devastation of the Blitz. As the city crumbles so do the relationships of the characters. The weak bonds that have held them together -- their common history through WWI , their love and marriage, their art -- have crumbled in the emotional devastation wrought by the horrors they encountered nightly. While the story ends on a note of optimism it is clear that the wounds they have suffered (like Kit's and Paul's war wounds and Elinor's loss of her beloved Toby) will never full heal.

Although this concluding story stands on its own, it is advisable to read LIfe Class and Toby's Room first. ( )
  stevesmits | Jun 6, 2016 |
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"A new novel from the Booker Prize winning Pat Barker, author of the Regeneration Trilogy, that unforgettably portrays London during the Blitz (her first portrayal of World War II) and reconfirms her place in the very top rank of British novelists. London, the Blitz, Autumn 1940. As the bombs fall on the blacked-out city, ambulance driver Elinor Brooke races from bomb sites to hospitals trying to save the lives of injured survivors, working alongside former friend Kit Neville, while her husband Paul Tarrant works as an air-raide warden. Once fellow students at the Slade School of Fine Art before the First World War destroyed the hopes of their generation, they now find themselves caught in another war, this time at home. As the bombing intensifies, the constant risk of death makes all three reach out for quick consolation. And into their midst comes the spirit medium Bertha Mason, grotesque and unforgettable, whose ability to make contact with the deceased finds vastly increased demands as death rains down from the skies. Old loves and obsessions resurface until Elinor is brought face to face with an almost impossible choice. Completing the story of Elinor Brooke, Paul Tarrant and Kit Neville begun with Life Class and continued with Toby's Room, Noonday is both a stand-alone novel and the climax of a trilogy. Writing about the Second World War for the first time, Pat Barker brings the besieged and haunted city of London into electrifying life in her most powerful novel since the Regeneration trilogy."--… (more)

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