Toby’s Room by Pat Barker

Toby’s Room by Pat Barker was published in 2012, but the book begins in 1912 at the affluent home of Toby and Elinor, a very (too) close brother and sister. They have an older sister Rachel, she’s the one who has done everything that her parents expected of her. Elinor has a difficult relationship with her rather self-centred mother, but she does manage to get to the Slade Art School, where she also studies human dissection to help with her drawing of the human body. This is all very ground-breaking for a young woman. She also rubs shoulders with some of the people in the Bloomsbury Group as well as men who became War Artists.

When World War I breaks out Toby joins up, he is of course an officer, but it seems that he doesn’t treat the men underneath him well, he risks their lives in unnecessary tasks, and lends them out to other units when what they really need is a rest. In 1917 when his family gets a telegram saying he is Missing, Believed Killed his mother is bereft, but Elinor can’t believe it, she has to get to the bottom of it.

Pat Barker never disappoints. I’m usually not a fan of writers who use actual people as characters in their books but with small name changes for some of them and no changes for others such as Rupert Brooke who was already dead by that time, I didn’t find it offensive at all for Barker to use them in her tale.

If you want to read the review of this book in The Independent you can do so here.