Chana's Reviews > Life Class

Life Class by Pat Barker
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's review
Jul 25, 2010

liked it
bookshelves: british, historical-fiction, wwi
Recommended to Chana by: bookcrossing
Read from July 25 to 29, 2010

This is not the book that I would recommend for anyone who suffers from depression, or is even flirting with depression.
A young man is attending The Slade School of Art in London in the year 1914. However, the instructor is not impressed with his work because it is as if the artist has nothing to say. Then comes the Great War, which changes everything; the young man, London, the country, the world. The young man is posted in the medical facilities just behind the front line in Belgium. He finds "what to say" in his art through this experience. The questions come thick though; is "war art" valid art? Can a person who participates in the war really live as a civilian again, will the civilians and soldiers find common ground again. Just what IS beauty? Is is petty to mourn the loss of the beauty of the land when there is so much human life to mourn?
The most interesting part of this book is the historical setting. The Slade is a real school. Our character studied under Henry Tonks who was a surgeon before he became an artist. Henry Tonks worked with Garold Gillies who was pioneering the techniques of modern plastic surgery on the faces of mutilated young men, according to the acknowledgments section at the back of the book. The war is course interesting, if devastating.
I read this book quickly, it is interesting and one just keeps turning the pages. But my reactions ranged from the moue of distaste to furious anger that had no outlet and left me feeling that all is futile. I actually had to take pain medicine when I finished it and do a day of physical work to shake off the pall of this book.

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