Saturday, 21 July 2007

Life Class by Pat Barker

Life Class
Pat Barker
(Hamish Hamilton €??)

PAT BARKER books always have a spéirbhean or two, moist-lipped, hot-eyed, mysterious of gaze.

And sure enough, in the years leading up to the Great War, here we are at the Slade school of art.

Grimly art-focused North of England lad Paul Tarrant is casting warm looks at Elinor, a siren who always makes any man or woman she speaks to seem at the centre of her world.

But it's Teresa, a model for Augustus John and all that crowd, who becomes his lover. Teresa may or may not have an angry, jealous husband. She gets threatening notes, but did she write them herself?

No, it turns out when the husband beats the tripes out of Paul, and Teresa takes herself off out of the way.

Next thing, Paul's working as a medical orderly patching together the blown-up half-corpses of Ypres, and sharing a love-hate thing with the lad billeted with him.

Barker is a fine writer, and couldn't write a bad book if she tried. Her books have been filmed and won Bookers and Guardians. But this isn't her best work ever - there's a lack of centre in the story, and the characters are thin.

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