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
    Genre: Novels

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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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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.

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.)

Kathy

Life Imitates Art or Art Imitates Life
Life is a series of situations where you learn and grow. Life Class is a fitting title for this book as it reflects the art class where several students meet and form early friendships and relationships. It is also a novel that deals with the classes of people found in London just prior to the start of WWI. It is definitely a book about "life" from learning how to draw the body to having a successful relationship with others and what it takes to make a life successful. It deals with the horrors of war and looks at it from two different perspectives which reflect not only the main characters views but the world - do you not even read about war so that you do not have to acknowledge it is taking place or do you do something about it to help and make a difference?

Alice

Life Class
I enjoyed every inch, every word of this book. The characters were young, eager to experience life but they were unpredictable. Just when I was sure that they had established a relationship, the relationship would take an unexpected twist to the extent that their unpredictability became predictable.

The book contains interesting words that were probably used during World War, "sixpennies", I had never heard of that.

I would recommend this book only to readers who can be entertained by the author's character development of young artists as well as descriptions of their various environments. If you are looking for a sensational plot...this isn't the book.

Mary

Art As Life
At first glance, Life Class appears to be a light hearted look at life in London during the days leading up to World War I. It is only after beginning Part Two that the reader becomes aware of Pat Barker's skill at painting word pictures which draw one into the times and attitudes surrounding war and its human consequences. A moving, thought-provoking book of a time in history which present day society has forgotten along with the lessons the horror of World War I taught the world. Lessons swallowed up by apathy and denial.

Mary Jo

Life Class
Life Class lives up to the excellence and economic elegance of Pat Barker's previous offerings. Winner of the Booker Prize for fiction, Barker is a
marvelous chronicler of WW1 England. While not a part of the Regeneration Trilogy, Life Class covers the same time period - just before and during the early part of the "war to end all wars."

Four characters, three from art school, are presented. They are young and ignorant of the world about them. Two go off to the ambulance corps. No one remains the same.

Barker paints her subjects with a light brush. Paul is the most described but this does not matter. The real topic is the war and its impact. For those who have read the Regeneration Trilogy, Barker's newest book will be very welcome. To those who have not had that pleasure, you have some great reading ahead!

...11 more reader reviews

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

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