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Monday, March 10, 2008

LIFE CLASS by Pat Barker

REGENERATION, the first book of Pat Barker's trilogy about WWI is the most powerful anti-war book I've ever read, and one of the best pieces of historical fiction I've ever read as well. Her latest book, LIFE CLASS, revisits WWI but not as successfully as the Regeneration Trilogy. The book is divided into two parts. Part One is set on the eve of WWI and follows the lives of three characters---Paul, Neville and Elinor---all art students studying at a famous art school in London called the Slade. Their lives revolve mostly around their studies and their romantic liaisons. Frankly I found this part of the book to be rather slow, and the characters not particularly engaging or appealing. But in Part Two of the novel, the narrative comes alive. Ms. Barker herself seems much more engaged. Her writing becomes more vivid and certainly more compelling , as the reader is thrown into the midst of WWI when the two male characters volunteer for the medical corps. Ms. Barker seems to have a unique grasp of the horror and tragedy of war and she manages to convey it best through the lens of WWI. This aspect alone makes the novel worth reading. I'm sure the main reason I found the book somewhat disappointing was that I couldn't help but compare it to REGENERATION. Anyone who has not read the earlier trilogy would undoubtedly find LIFE CLASS a compelling and powerful piece of historical fiction in its own right.