Pat Barker - Toby’s Room (4 stars)

Pat Barker - Toby’s Room

The novelist's latest war story also deals with art, history and incest

Pat Barker has rarely strayed from the war novel since the success of her ‘Regeneration’ trilogy in the early 90s. And although Toby’s Room follows this well-trodden historical path, the story is far from familiar.

Toby and Elinor Brooke are brother and sister: and lovers. Their illicit relationship is almost the breaking point for their once steadfast bond but when Toby is killed in the war, Elinor becomes obsessed with finding out how he died. The only witness, Kit Neville, is recovering from a horrific facial injury and is reluctant to tell Elinor the truth. When she does find out, will she be able to finally close the door on her brother’s empty room?

What could be a predictable return to a favoured formula is instead an innovative and intriguing narrative. Art, history and the human body are the focus, as artists, medics and ordinary men try to rebuild their shattered lives and bodies. Harrowing and heartfelt, Barker doesn’t shy away from the destructive force of war, leaving Toby’s Room simply impossible to put down.

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