Yes, up here in the Frozen North it is Snowing! (on and off, usually at the exact moment that I need to go out – sigh). Last year we had snow from 17th December to February. Hmm. Ah well, Daughter has turned up in co ordinated snow outfit. Glad to see someone is enjoying it. Huzzah!
Son One has just reminded me to point out that the end of the new Harry Potter film is “very sad”. You have been warned, but I would still like to see it — hint, hint.
Today’s book is also sad, tragic, and a little frightening, but given the subject matter of the First World War, that is hardly surprising. I wrote a while ago about the “Free Thinking” Festival at the Sage. The opening event that I attended was Books at Breakfast, featuring an interview with Pat Barker. She was speaking about her book Life Class.
I actually read this book quite a while ago, and while I cannot say that I enjoyed it, I found it a fascinating novel of the characters and the time. The picture of the Slade School of Art and its characters was engaging, especially the troubles of the main character, Paul, whose working class credentials stood in sharp contrast to the other students. This was a point emphasised by Pat, who read an extract in which Paul gets mightily fed up with his drawings being rejected, when they would have been praised at home. He is only there because of a legacy from his redoubtable grandmother, briefly mentioned but a believeable character nonetheless. The book is like that; many little remarks, pictures and characters which add to the whole, but do not necessarily develop. I read a review in which the ending is critiscised as not really concluding the story. Having just reread it, I can see the argument, but I think it is a lovely, genuine ending saying a lot about real life and relationships.
This is a book which is difficult to say I ‘enjoyed’ because it paints a realistic picture of life as a medical orderly on the Front line. There is death and injury, and while it is a fictional account, Pat B is so detailed in her research that it sits well alongside any other account that I have read. Paul chooses to paint a picture of the battle which is not for display; it is just the urge to record, to comment, which overcomes him.
Pat B was keen to point out the fact that Paul is the working class character that she sympathizes with, and while it is another novel in which a male dominates, the female characters are still well drawn and important. In contrast with the fictional Paul, Henry Tonks the art teacher at the Slade did exist, and indeed became a vital medical illustrator. And he is the revelation, there is to be another book to follow Life Class, with the character of Tonks featured. This will perhaps answer the points about not quite finishing Life Class fully. I look forward to reading another first World War novel by this prize winning author, whose Regeneration Trilogy I remember reading with great interest.
Pat B was also very interesting on the subject of her writing, how the first draft of Union Street ended up in the bin only to be rescued by her other half, and how her life experiences added to to her creative writing training to encourage her realistic Northern writing style. She did pass on various hints to aspiring writers, such as writing quickly without editing along the way in order to make the characters live. Altogether I think that this is a good book, worthwhile in its subject matter, and excellent on the humanity of those involved in a terrible War.