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Life Class

(Life Class #1)

3.57  ·  Rating details ·  4,139 ratings  ·  595 reviews
Life Class is the first novel in Pat Barker's Life Class Trilogy - a powerful and unforgettable story of art and war Spring, 1914. The students at the Slade School of Art gather in Henry Tonks's studio for his life-drawing class. But for Paul Tarrant the class is troubling, underscoring his own uncertainty about making a mark on the world. When war breaks out and the army ...more
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published July 17th 2007 by Hamish Hamilton (first published 2007)
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Average rating 3.57  · 
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 ·  4,139 ratings  ·  595 reviews

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Roman Clodia
Aug 31, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
'Of course it matters, in one way, it matters that people are dying. I just don't think that's what art should be about. It's like painting a train crash. Of course it's dreadful, but it's not...' She was groping for words.

Thus Elinor, a protected middle-class girl who has enough of a sense of independence to take herself off to the Slade in the years just before WW1 but who is still, as we see, wedded to conventional definitions of art, too blindly like the 'two old codgers' as she calls th
Nov 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: world-war-one
This is the first volume of Pat Barker’s second WW1 trilogy. I have managed to read the second volume (Toby’s Room) first, so I have hastily read this to catch up. It revolves around a group of painters at the Slade and starts just before the War. The fictional characters are based on a real group of artists at The Slade at the time (Mark Gertler, Dora Carrington, Barbara Hiles, Paul Nash, Stanley Spencer and Christopher Nevinson). Elinor Brooke is Carrington, Kit Neville is a mix of Nevinson an ...more
Jun 16, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I first read this book shortly after the paperback was published, and reread it for a discussion in the Reading the 20th Century group. Having read the two subsequent parts of the trilogy, it stands up pretty well (for me Toby's Room is the best and Noonday the weakest part).

The book serves as an introduction to the three main characters, all of whom meet as current or former art students at the Slade shortly before the Great War. Most of the story is told from the perspective of Paul Tarrant, a
Definitely worth four stars, but at the start I had trouble. The prose, the author’s choice of words and what she did with the characters bothered me, but this was only at the start.

The story opens in London. It focuses upon a group of art students at the Slade School of Fine Art. It is the spring of 1914, before the start of the First World War. The characters are based on artists who did exist and attended the school. The name of their art professor, Henry Tonks, has not been changed. He was
Aug 23, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the first in a trilogy and begins at the Slade. There is a mix of real people, such as art teacher Tonks, and Lady Ottoline Morrell and fictional characters; although based on real people, or a mix of them. The beginning of this novel is set at the Slade and features a sort of love triangle between Elinor Brooke, Kit Neville and Paul Tarrant. Paul does not come from the usual Slade background and is unsure of himself and his talent; aware of his Midlands childhood and the fact that being ...more
Jul 19, 2008 rated it it was ok
I love the Regeneration trilogy so much, but I just can’t get into Barker’s other work. Her latest novel struck me as weirdly unfocused: the first half follows Paul through art school and various romantic assignations, including a quasi love triangle thing; I didn’t find it particularly compelling. Even after Paul goes to war as an ambulance driver and hospital worker, I couldn’t latch on—I was never at all invested or even particularly interested in Paul and Elinor as a couple, and I felt at t ...more
Jul 31, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011
This is a Pat Barker two, not an overall two. Probably an overall three. No one writes World War I and that period as well as Barker, and in general her prose is smooth and compelling. The problem is that the War becomes such an outsize character in this book that nothing else really fully comes to life. The book's episodic structure makes it seem unfinished -- the story of Teresa that provides the narrative impetus for the first part of the book feels like it is left hanging, as does the vaguel ...more
Mar 21, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4 1/2 stars. Pat Barker is such an amazing author. I didn't like this one quite as much as her award winning Regeneration trilogy, which has made it onto my favorite books ever list, but this one is wonderful too. It's quieter in a way, but her vivid, flawed characters, realistic historical details, and flawless dialogue are consistent. And her writing! The only author I can really compare her to is Edna St. Vincent Millay which...well, which probably makes no sense, since Millay was a poet rath ...more
Sep 25, 2020 rated it it was ok
It's not that this is a bad book, my problem with it was that I felt completely ambivalent towards all of the characters and so felt no connection to the story. Perhaps I would have liked it more another time. ...more
Apr 18, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Kirsten by: NYT 100 Notable Books 2008
I read this book for two reasons: one, it had won the Booker Prize, and, two, I seem to love books set during the First World War.

This book was really wonderful. The language was so simple and elegant. The story too was also very enjoyable. The personal relationships, the view of the homefront, the description of life in a combat hospital of the era.

One of the best books I've read this year.
Apr 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: war, history
Life Class
I have a friend on GR to thank –Ta Laura – for pointing me in the direction of Life class as I was about to embark on reading Toby’s Room for a war and literature readalong. Did I realise it had some of the same characters as Life class she asked tactfully. In fact it really does help if you read Life class first. Although they can be read as standalone novels they work best together as a pair, rather like the brother and sister Toby and Elinore.
Life class is about the world of the Sla
Jun 21, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2009
I admire Pat Barker's writing and really enjoyed the Regeneration trilogy but I just couldn't connect with this book about art students and the different paths they take during WW1. The book asks if art is important during a time of war and while I think it is, Elinor (who seems to represent this side of the discussion by remaining committed to her classes and painting) distanced herself so far from a war that held her lover and brother in its grips that it was very hard to relate to her perspec ...more
Oct 09, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: brits
In Pat Barker's latest novel she returns to the horror of WWI, the setting of her highly acclaimed Regeneration trilogy.

The novel follows a trio of art students and their preoccupations with love and lust, which pale to insignificance as the momentum of war gathers pace. Paul and Kit both volunteer for Red Cross duty at the front, and process their experiences into their painting, whereas in contrast, Elinor joins the circle around Lady Ottoline Morrell, society hostess to pacifists, conscienti
Aug 07, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: great-war
This was a good book, but not a great one. I'm not sure what was missing, but there is a distance in her writing that makes the characters unengaging and seem almost aloof. I much preferred the Regeneration books and Another World.

Having said that, I'm still glad I read it. She's one of the best writers I can think of for evoking the calamity that was the period between 1914 and 1918.
Elizabeth (Alaska)
I guess it pays to fully read the description, but I was prepared to read almost anything by Pat Barker. I picked up this book because one of my groups had a theme "art and artists". Do not be fooled. While the characters in this book are, indeed, artists, this is not a book about art and artists. Too bad. I think I would have liked it better if it were.

Barker didn't seem able to decide what she wanted to do. If set during the war, did she want the home front or the war? She didn't do either ver
Tattered Cover Book Store
Pat Barker returns to World War I in this lovely and heartbreaking novel about war and art. The action starts just prior to the Great War at the Slade, a prestigous art school in London. Neville loves Elinor, but Elinor doesn't want marriage or any of the trappings of a traditional life. She is a modern woman, who values art over most other things. Paul is their friend, and in love with Elinor, as well. While Paul is not as good a painter as the other two, he does have good looks and an honest s ...more
Jan 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Disclaimer: I love Pat Barker. Regeneration is one of my favourite books so I had mixed hopes for this. Mixed as in, when one of your favourite authors writes someone new in the same genre, you’re always going to be comparing to what they’ve done previously, so I did approach this with slight trepidation (and after the disappointment of Philip Pullman’s latest offering which I had also recently read, how could I not?). However, I was not disappointed. Barker is a master of evoking the sights, th ...more
James Murphy
Jan 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
Life Class is the 1st novel in a trilogy called...Life Class. I thought it unremarkable as a stand alone novel. I found in it less metaphor and little development of ideas, usually a prime inspiration for beginning a novel. However, Pat Barker is author of The Regeneration Trilogy which I admire. Its opening novel, Regeneration, also was a little bit disappointing, I thought, for the same reasons. But by the 3d Regeneration novel Barker had developed the parallel tracks of modern death in indust ...more
Lisa Sanders
Aug 27, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this book set in WW1. And I didn’t think I would. I read it as I already had the 3rd book in the trilogy due to a Mumsnet giveaway. I originally downloaded a sample and couldn’t put it down. It tells the story of a complicated relationship between Elinor and Paul set against a backdrop of art school,moving on to the horrors of being a medic during WW1 for Paul. Elinor stays at home and they correspond via letters and a few fleeting encounters. This is not my usual thing but I en ...more
May 08, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Like Pat Barker’s hugely successful Regeneration trilogy ‘Life Class’ is set just before and during the First World War. As the novel opens Paul Tarrant an art student studying at the Slade School of art takes his place in the life drawing class tutored by the difficult Henry Tonks. Paul has a tough time under Tonks, leading him to even question his talent in his frustration. Paul and his artistic friends spend many evenings at the Café Royal, where he is introduced to Teresa, a beautiful troubl ...more
Jul 11, 2019 rated it it was ok
I really wanted to like this. Made it to page 55. The author's use of language is intriguing at times, and I caught a few glimpses of downright poetic writing. But then there are passages like this one:
[...] they climbed the rest of the hill in silence. When they reached the bathing area, he pushed the gate open to reveal an area of sparse grass covered in lobster-pink flesh. Paul stepped inside and took a deep breath. Smells of pond water, sopping towels, damp hair.
Is it just me, or does "spar
Courtney Johnston
Mar 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
Pat Barker's books set in World War One continue to blow me away. Her “Regeneration” trilogy (“Regeneration,” “The Eye in the Door” and “The Ghost Road”) - centred on lightly fictionalised versions of the famous British war poets - were gruelling and transfixing, set on the front lines and in a psychiatric hospital for soldiers. "Life Class" is (relatively) less grim, revolving as it does around the lives of a group of Slade art school students at the outbreak and into the war.

The book opens wit
Debbie Robson
Jun 19, 2010 rated it it was ok
Since I am now working on a novel about World War I, I was very interested to read Pat Barker’s Life Class. I’ve also been meaning to read her trilogy. Not sure that I will now. Life Class was such a disappointment on many levels. Firstly I had trouble getting into the head of both male characters. We initially spend a lot of time with Paul, his feelings and observations about people and things. That’s fine but his observations about the other male character Neville just don’t add up. He calls h ...more
Oct 17, 2012 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jay Rubenstein
May 19, 2013 rated it liked it
Historical fiction -- part romance, part WWI story, part depiction of the early twentieth-century English art scene. Although the war material is disturbing in its violence, somehow the romantic material in the first of half of the book was more unsettling still. On the down side, the two halves of the book don't quite hold together. But the main problem is that "Life Class" inevitably recalls Pat Barker's "Regeneration" trilogy, also about WWI, which is probably the best and most frightening wo ...more
Givent that I completely adore the Regeneration trilogy, it is really upsetting to me that Pat Barker's other fiction leaves me feeling, for the most part, somewhat cold. I was hopeful that Barker's return to the WWI era would mean that this book would be as amazing as Regeneration et al, but unfortunately, it was a bit of a disappointment.

The best way to describe this book is slight: everything about it feels very lightly sketched, and what's more, as if seen from a great distance. I could nev
Paul Tarrant and Elinor Brooke are students at the Slade School of Art. Art is their lives, especially so for Elinor. Paul doubts his own ability, a doubt apparently shared by his tutor Sir Henry Tonks. It is early 1914, and Paul is determined to get to know Elinor better. Elinor appears disinterested, and Paul's affections transfer to artist's model Theresa. The hot summer descends upon them, and suddenly it looks as though the country will be going to war in Europe. As the men begin talking of ...more
Will Byrnes
Sep 15, 2008 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 20, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015-reads
Seeing the forthcoming publication date for this trilogy's third volume has reminded me that I miss reading Pat Barker! I'm finally prepared to accept that nothing else she writes may come close to the perfection of the Regeneration trilogy. I shall read this with an open mind . . .
. . . Upon completion: I enjoyed this immensely because I knew that the lives of Paul, Elinor, Toby, Catherine, and Kit were only partially drawn and would be continued in future volumes of the trilogy. If this had be
Emi Bevacqua
Mar 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Powerful look at a group of friends at a London art school in the early 1900's, and how their hearts and spirits are broken by war. Elinor Brooke has proper manners, artistic skill, and an abundance of friends; Paul Tarrant isn't sure he is where he belongs. I loved this story. My favorite parts are the letters Elinor and Paul exchange, and Barker's descriptions of the era, the times, and their art. ...more
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Pat Barker was born in Thornaby-on-Tees in 1943. She was educated at the London School of Economics and has been a teacher of history and politics.

Her books include the highly acclaimed Regeneration trilogy Regeneration; The Eye in the Door, winner of the Guardian Fiction Prize; and The Ghost Road, winner of the Booker Prize; as well as seven other novels. She's married and lives in Durham, Engla

Other books in the series

Life Class (3 books)
  • Toby's Room (Life Class, #2)
  • Noonday (Life Class, #3)

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