Sunday, December 23, 2012

Pat Barker, LIFE CLASS

The title is a play on words, gesturing both to the class at the Slade (Art School in London) and the sort of lessons war teaches about life. This is what I think of as almost an old-fashioned novel--not a lot of action, but several character arcs that intersect. Oh ... and beautiful writing. The lines are never as good out of context, so I won't try, but Barker's prose is stunning at times. The story begins in the 1910s and concerns a small group of artists, in a love triangle; Elinor refuses to look at the war; Neville is already famous as a bold artist, but a narcissist; Paul tries to enlist but is turned away, so works in one of the hospitals near Ypres, and eventually turns away from his artificial landscapes and paints the tragedies of war. It's about love, but also about the moral role of art in a world at war. Liked it very much.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


If you liked *Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet*, you might give this a try. It is a brilliant, dense, bitterly humorous, wide-ranging tale told by half a dozen narrators, including Captain Illiam Quillian Kewley, who has managed to launch a smuggling operation on his new boat; a half-black, half-white aborigine from Tasmania named Peevey, who is filled with vitriolic hatred of the whites who have driven him hither and thither and killed nearly everyone he knows; and the three "English Passengers" of the title, who voyage on Kewley's ship to Tasmania. One of this is roughly based on Knox, whose viciously racist notions were published in the mid 1800s; another is a self-righteous preacher who believes he will find the original site of Eden in Tasmania; the third is a lazy botanist who has been shoved out of England by his family, who has declared him hopeless. A masterpiece (and Booker Prize Finalist), but NOT a quick read.