Thursday, November 15, 2012

"Toby's Room," by Pat Barker

I had been hearing about Pat Barker's novels for a while, and when I finally read "Life Class," I was very impressed. Now I have just read her newest novel, "Toby's Room" (Doubleday, 2012), and although I liked it, I felt a little let down; although it is a sequel to "Life Class," it didn't seem as strong a novel. Both novels deal with young people in London and environs during World War I; some of these young people fight in the "Great War," while all of their family and friends back home are also deeply affected by the war. The main characters in this novel are Elinor Brooke, an art student and independent young woman, and her brother Toby, who goes off to war. The two of them are very close, and when he is reported "missing, believed killed," she cannot rest until she finds out his fate and how it happened. Part of the appeal of this novel, for me, is its setting in England, during this critical time period in England's history, when life seemed to be more intense for everyone. I am also interested in stories of young women of the time who were realizing they could be more independent, and have careers and love affairs. The writing is good, the story is compelling, and the characters are well-drawn. There is romance, friendship, suspense, and more. So I am not sure why I felt let down, but there it is... By the way, I found it interesting that the publisher mentions in the inner-cover prose that "admirers of 'Downtown Abbey' will be enthralled."

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