Life Class: Book summary and reviews of Life Class by Pat Barker

Life Class

A Novel

By Pat Barker

Life Class
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  • Published in USA  Jan 2008,
    320 pages.

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Book Summary

In this superb new novel, Pat Barker returns to her most renowned subject: the devastation and psychic damage wrought by WWI on all levels of British society. In the spring of 1914, a group of young students gather in an art studio for a life-drawing class. Paul Tarrant and Elinor Brooke are two components of a love triangle, and at the outset of the war, they turn to each other. After volunteering for the Red Cross, Paul must confront the fact that life, love, and art will never be the same for him. Pat Barker is unrivaled in her ability to convey simple, moving human truths. 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.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Mature, unsentimental and searching. One of this excellent writer's finest books." - Kirkus Reviews.

"With great tenderness and insight, and a daring to forgo simple resolutions, Barker conveys a wartime world turned upside down." - The Independent (UK).

"As ever with Barker…the writing is breathtaking…sharply written and elegantly constructed." - The Guardian (UK).

"Mature, unsentimental and searching. One of this excellent writer's finest books." - Kirkus Reviews.

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Reader Reviews

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Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Darlene
Life Class
Pat Barker can add another success with her new novel Life Class. Her beautiful writing skills combined with well defined characters makes this a wonderful read. Barker reminds us of the harsh realities of war and it's effect on an entire generation robbed of it's innocence.

Rated 2 of 5 of 5 by Karen
Disappointing
I was sadly disappointed to find that this book was not compelling at all. While the writing style and composition were excellent, the characters were shallow and lackluster. I found I cared little what choices they were going to make, nor did I feel a sense of tragedy or horror at the atrocities of the war they were living through. The only thing that kept me reading the book was the composition and excellent descriptions from the author. This is not a book I would recommend to very many people.

Rated 2 of 5 of 5 by Jan
Life Class
I had great hope for this book given Pat Barker had won the Booker Prize and I quite enjoy works that deal with WWI. What a let down! I found Part One extremely hard to get through (and not very interesting) and the end very disappointing. The only decent part was the small middle section actually dealing with the war and it's impact on the character Paul. I did enjoy the letter writing and thought that it gave the story most of it's guts. Most of the characters were unappealing and uninteresting and the brutality of WWI and its affect on people was only delved into. I had expected so much more. I'm afraid I cannot recommend this book.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Alice
Life Class
I have always been interested in World War I and its impact on humanity. Having not yet gotten around to reading Pat Barker’s Regeneration Trilogy, I was interested in reading Life Class, which has the same subject, WWI.

I wasn’t disappointed. In detailed style, Ms Barker accurately manages to illuminate the stark contrast between war and peace and their effect on relationships. The book focuses on Paul Tarrant, Elinor Brooke and Kit Neville: how they meet at the Slade art school in London before the war begins, how they individually react to the war, and how the war ultimately changes the lives of each and their relationships with each other.
Ms Barker’s text is incisive. Whether depicting human emotion or realistic battle scenarios, whether those depictions are in third person or through the personal correspondence between Elinor and Paul while he is serving in Belgium, she does not fail to deliver. I was enthralled throughout and could not wait to get back to the latest on Paul, Elinor and Kit each evening.

Life Class is timeless. Its occurrences and relationships could happen in any conflict, including those today in Afghanistan and Iraq. I highly recommend this book. It would do especially well for discussion in a book club.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by kippie
Life Class
I was delighted to be selected to review the new book by the English author Pat Baker. I had checked the book Life Class and emailed it off without a second thought of possibly being selected to write a review for the book. It was good fortune that the book arrived just as I was leaving for an extended trans-Atlantic cruise---it was an ideal setting to be introduced to an author who was unknown to me. Cruising the seas, allowed me time to devote my undivided attention meeting the life-like fictional characters…Paul and Elinor. I chose the book because of my love for military history and my previous work in the fields of art and medicine. This book captured all three. Although the book was not lengthy---only 248 pages---Ms. Baker was able to weave together real life characters (Mr. Tonks) and fictional ones which gave the reader a wonderful and accurate representation of the upheaval and trauma felt by all in any war----past or present.

The reader will either love or hate the characters-----I came to dislike Elinor…..I painted her as self-centered. Even though the book was short, the characters were, for the most part, multilayered and Ms. Baker was able to capture British society during the WW I . She employed the dry wit of the British that can bring a smile even in a war setting. Her trauma scenes were accurate and the conversations that took place in these settings, although morbid, is the type of humor I have personally witnessed. It is the type of humor that keeps one working and sane. Though sparse and selective in her use of prose, the author was able to paint a vivid picture that made the reader part of the scene. At the end of the book I still had questions about Paul that needed answering - I answered these with a slower and more leisurely reading (it was just as great the second reading). I believe Life Class would be a wonderful book club selection that would lend itself to a lively debate. After reading this one book, I will be sure to search out and read other books by Pat Baker. (Do research Mr Tonks - he was a very interesting man.)

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Maggie
Life Class vs. Real Life Class
Pat Barker's new novel is as condensed and impressionistic as her Regeneration trilogy is lengthy and detailed. In fact, it could be a section of a larger work as the reader is given glimpses of the lives of its characters as they are derailed from expected paths by the great war with their futures left unresolved. As a fan of Barker, I very much enjoyed this slim novel and recommend it to those who have enjoyed the trilogy as well as those who have read Ian McEwan's Atonementand On Chesil Beach with pleasure.

...11 more reader reviews

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Pat Barker is the Booker Prize–winning author of The Regeneration Trilogy

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