Sunday, June 19, 2016

"Noonday," by Pat Barker

British author Pat Barker is perhaps best known for her “Regeneration trilogy,” three connected novels about England during World War I. She has now completed another trilogy of connected novels, this time about England during World War II. I have not yet read the “Regeneration trilogy,” although I plan to, but I have now completed these most recent novels, “Life Class,” “Toby’s Room” (about which I posted on 11/15/12), and “Noonday” (Doubleday, 2015), all of which are very powerful, and beautifully written. When I say these six novels in the two trilogies (and Barker has written others as well) are “about” the wars, it would perhaps be more accurate to say that they take place during the wars. They do include battle scenes, but even more, they depict the English, especially Londoners, who were affected by the wars in many different ways. They fought, they returned from battlefronts, often wounded; some didn’t return; they waited for their loved ones; they experienced the bombings and the deaths and injuries and the deprivations; they worked as wardens and rescue workers and ambulance drivers; they struggled with the emotions of wartime and massive loss. “Noonday,” which I just finished reading, takes up the same characters as the earlier two novels in this trilogy: a group of art students in the earliest novel, and now in the third one, middle-aged adults, still artists, who either have fought and been damaged physically and mentally, and/or are trying to keep their lives going in London and the countryside, despite repeated bombings, losses of their homes, being witness to terrible destruction of life and property, and always worrying about their relatives and friends and their city and country. Remarkably, they still work on their art when they can; art, along with love and friendship, is what keeps them going. Sometimes this desperate situation leads various characters to behave bravely, and sometimes to behave badly (the latter in their personal lives), but there is some question about whether the “normal” (non-wartime) rules about, for example, marital fidelity, apply in the midst of such destruction. It is fascinating to see how these characters –- mainly Elinor, Paul, and Kit, who have been art school classmates and friends and lovers at various times -- grow and change, and how their relationships also evolve through the 25-plus years they have known each other. These novels bring us up close to the horrors of war, yet show that daily life and relationships go on too. I can only describe this trilogy, and this novel, clumsily, as I have been fortunate never to experience anything like this. But I do want to say how exquisitely masterful Barker’s depictions, and her writing are; I highly recommend this trilogy. And now I plan to go back and read the earlier trilogy as well.
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