Friday 28 August 2015

Noonday - Pat Barker

The third book in the series that started with Life Class and Toby's Room, this takes the story of the love triangle that is Elinor, Paul and Kit into middle age and into the horrors of London during the Blitz. Although this is the third book in the series there seems to be enough background provided to make it possible to read this as a standalone book. I really don't think that you would appreciate the depth of story and feeling should you choose to read it in this fashion. The ghosts from the earlier books certainly haunt this one.
While I did enjoy my experience of reading this, there were times when I found aspects of the story-telling grating in the extreme. The story arc involving Bertha Mason (not Mrs Rochester, but a hugely overweight clairvoyant) was fascinating but also deeply irritating at times. These sections seemed fragmented and I found them rather confusing, a distraction from the main story. Despite this the writing covering the experience of the Blitz is brilliantly executed. The terror and confusion is captured perfectly, as well as the near-total dislocation from normal life as the city became unrecognisable.
As you'd expect from this series issues around the artistic world do play a part in this story arc, with some discussion of the role of a war artist, as well as what was considered to be 'proper' subjects for artists of box sexes. Unlike the first two books in the series though, these considerations were very much on the background, a decision that I thought made sense considering the massive and devastating events against which this is set. In many ways, despite being set in the 1940s this is still a novel of the First World War, the continuing impact of the 1914-18 war is what has shaped all of the central characters. All of their actions have to be seen against the trauma of their experiences during WWI, it is fascinating to see the first war through the eyes of characters already shaped by and earlier conflict.
Despite it's flaws this is a book to read, and a worthy and satisfying conclusion to the series; it will be interesting to see if Pat Barker's next novel will also cover issues surrounding conflict now that she has so comprehensively looked at the impact of the First World War.

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