Sunday, January 06, 2008

LIFE CLASS by Pat Barker (2007)

Best known for her REGENERATION trilogy of novels set during WWI, Pat Barker returns to the early years of the war with her most recent book. It's 1914 London and there is a burgeoning class of talented painters at the famed Slade School, under the tutelage of Henry Tonks, a former surgeon who runs the life-drawing studio. There Elinor Brooke and Paul Tarrant meet.

When Paul decides to volunteer for the Belgian Red Cross, his life is more than a world away from his days in art school. Though, on the front near Ypres, where he treats the maimed, dressing their wounds and amputated stumps, he does the best work of his life.

LIFE CLASS raises interesting and disturbing questions about the wounds of war and how they have been represented in visual art--or more often, hidden.

In 1916, the real Dr. Henry Tonks worked with Dr. Harold Gillies, a surgeon then pioneering techniques of plastic surgery on the faces of mutilated young men. Tonks made drawings of the patients before, during and after surgery and those drawings were not exhibited in his lifetime, eventhough they are among some of the most moving images to come out of any war.

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