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Life Class

(Life Class #1)

3.55  ·  Rating details ·  3,877 ratings  ·  567 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 3.55  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,877 ratings  ·  567 reviews

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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
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
Kirsten #flyapaperairplane #dothelindyhop #thankaredhead
Apr 18, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Kirsten #flyapaperairplane #dothelindyhop #thankaredhead 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: history, war
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Jan 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I read Barker's first trilogy about WW I (Regeneration) and am now reading her second. I'm surprised to see that I gave the first ones only four stars. I think possibly I was slightly put off by the fact that most of the characters were her fictionalized accounts of real people. Here (as far as I know) the only real person is a teacher at the Slade school of art, a former surgeon who berates students for not understanding anatomy when they're trying to draw from live models. There are three main ...more
Elizabeth  Higginbotham
Jun 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
Life Class by Pat Barker takes us to London before World War I into the world of a group of art students. There are men and women, and of course a teacher who can intimate them. There are class differences, but people with some means, although some did not go to boarding school. People are struggling to define themselves as artists during this time, but war changes everything—yet some do have ways of blocking out that reality. Paul spend time on the front, as a medical assistant and then an ambu ...more
Mar 26, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I haven't read any Pat Barker for years - the last time I read Regeneration was at school - so it was a pleasant surprise to remember how much I enjoy her writing.
However, Life Class felt very much like the opening book of a series - i felt quite unsettled throughout, like I couldn't really get a good grip on the story or the characters. It felt a little unfocused. I was also itching for the war bits to get started, so I wasn't as enamoured with the first half of the book.
The plot with Teresa an
Lovmelovmycats Hart
Jul 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
I'm getting the idea that while Pat Barker's average work is very, very good (like this one), Regeneration and The Ghost Road were both transcendent. After I read those, I was so swept up that I decided to read everything she's written. Life Class does not dissuade me from that goal, but after it and Union Street and Blow Your House Down, I've realized that Regeneration might be her masterpiece. So maybe I'll pursue the rest more slowly.
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.
Ruth Chatlien
Sep 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
There is no denying that Pat Barker writes beautifully. The characters and settings are deftly drawn. I liked this book but was not completely satisfied with the ending. I know it’s the opening to a trilogy, but even so, each book needs its own resolution. In that respect, this one fell short a little for me.
Jan 27, 2020 rated it liked it
3.25 stars. My first Pat Barker book, and it's a powerful read. There are huge themes here, the purpose of art and the brutality of war are rich enough stuff for any novel, but it's the disaffected relationships that feel so disturbingly real. It did seem a bit aimless at the beginning, but took shape when the setting shifted to Ypres. Now on to book 2...
Robert Palmer
May 03, 2019 rated it liked it
The story begins in 1914 before the outbreak of WW I Paul Tarrant and Elinor Brooke are students at the Slade School of Art,Paul is unable to connect romantically with Elinor.
Part two of the novel begins with the war in Belgium and Paul labors as an orderly in a battlefield two miles from the front.
Paul and Elinor exchange letters and Elinor makes a harrowing visit to the town of Ypris two miles from the front,durning her visit she surrenders her virginity to Paul and and also barely escapes a v
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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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