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Genes Book Club - Toby's Room reviews

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GenesBookClub Advisor Report 10 Dec 2013 13:08

Hi everyone -

Hope you enjoyed reading Toby's Room. We'd love to hear what you though of November's book!


Gillian Report 10 Dec 2013 17:07

'Toby's Room' Review

The action of this book takes place in England with flashbacks to the battlefields of World One in France. It is a compelling tale of how Elinor is obsessed with finding out how her brother, Toby, died. Toby's voice is mainly absent and the story is told through the eyes of Elinor, Paul Tarant and Kit Neville, all young artists.Their lives and characters are to change because of the war.

As always, I enjoy historical fiction which has been well researched. The work contains interesting details of how various sections of society responded to the war. For instance there are glimpses of how the Bloomsberry set reacted contrasted with the women who gave out white feathers to men not in uniform.

Attitudes to forbidden or frowned upon aspects of sexual love are also touched upon. The mores of the time sometimes coincide with those of today.

During Elinor's quest she becomes involved in recording the facial injuries of wounded soldiers at Queen's Hospital, Sidcup. These were horrific as are the descriptions of such wounds in the book.. On the plus side it is good to know that victims of violence can beneft today from the work of pioneering plastic surgeons in the Great War.

Believing that the story is 'the thing', I have a tendency to skim over long descriptive passages. However, I found myself re-reading some of them and realising how the death of a rabbit and the landscapes of England subtly echo what will happen in the killing fields of France.

Altogether a good and ultimately satisfying read.


AnninGlos Report 10 Dec 2013 17:49

Copied from Patricias thread

Review Toby's room by Pat Barker

I have never read any books by this author before and didn’t know what to expect. This is a brilliant book and I will certainly look out for her other books.

Basically it is a story of World War one and relationships, covering the work done by medical war artists, something I knew nothing about. And also artists training at the Slade taught by Professor Henry Tonks who was also a surgeon.

The relationships mainly documented are firstly between brother and sister and the knowledge of the brother’s twin, dead at birth. Brother and sister have a close relationship, making for uneasy reading at times, with always a sense of what is undisclosed lying beneath the surface. And secondly the relationships between fellow artists who are subsequently soldiers at the front.

It is difficult to say that the book was enjoyable. The story exposes the horror of war, both for those at the front, those injured, in this case with facial injuries, and those civilians left at home. Some of the writing is graphic and explicit and I learned so much I didn’t know about the tragedy of this war. So, not enjoyable but informing and interesting and I am glad I have read it. It is interesting to note that Professor Henry Tonks was actually a real life surgeon and artist and his drawings can be seen on line.

A great read with sympathetic characters, well researched, and a true to life story line that emphasises the futility and horror of war and its effect on both those who take part in the fighting and those left at home. I couldn’t put it down, very much recommended.


Kellie Report 12 Dec 2013 10:32

Toby’s Room

I generally avoid books about war, but actually I did enjoy this. Needless to say it was uncomfortable reading at times. But it was well researched, dialogue was good and the imagery was excellent throughout.

I found Elinor’s character cold and selfish, and although the other characters were interesting, I didn’t feel very close to any of them.

I understand there is a prequel to this book, which I shall be reading.

Just like to mention that my daughter has just been learning about WW2 at school, and a couple of days ago I noticed some of the children’s war artwork pinned up on the wall. Alongside this was a section mentioning the war artist – Paul Nash. I found this rather poignant, having just learnt that Paul Tarrant in the book was based on him.


+++DetEcTive+++ Report 24 Dec 2013 19:52

Nudge to the top of the board


Winifred Report 26 Dec 2013 14:37

This book was a real page turning.....very hard to put down. I love historical novels especially about WW1 or WW2 so this book was a winner for me before I even started. I have not read this author's work before even though I had heard of her.....coming from the same part of the country as myself.
The book was compelling and the details graphic but not too gory to make you cringe. I found the artistic element absorbing....having myself an interest in Art. I did wonder when reading it if they were based on real artists and on completion I find they are.
Didn't have a lot of empathy with Elinor but I did with Paul and Kit. There are lots of interesting historical facts in this book and as a result I have learnt a lot.
A great read and I will certainly be reading 'Life Class' the presequel to this book.


Marie Report 1 Jan 2014 18:34

Wow, a lot of human interaction in the read! I could not put it down. Excellent portrayal of the different outlooks about WWI. Gave many things to think about and information that I had not known before. Definately would read this author again.


Star2424 Report 31 Jan 2014 21:44

I enjoyed the book very much. Although the subject matter was disturbing, the author wrote with great sensitivity and the plot was well-paced. It didn't take me long to read it - I could hardly put it down!

It was the first book I had read by Pat Barker and I will definitely be reading more of her novels. The style of writing was very literary and the descriptions and metaphors used throughout the book were amazing. Sometimes I went back and re-read certain passages, especially descriptions of weather and scenery, just to savour the use of language.

I thought this book was a great choice for the Book Club as the subject matter is appropriate to the website, as well as coinciding with the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I.


GenesBookClub Advisor Report 3 Feb 2014 09:44

Hi everyone,

Thanks for your reviews, it's great to read what each of you thought of the book!

This month's title, The Invisible Woman, is a film-tie in edition:

"Her names, dates, family and experiences very nearly disappeared from the record for good. Claire Tomalin's multi-award-winning story of the relationship between Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens is a remarkable work of biography and historical revisionism. It not only returns the neglected actress to her rightful place in history, but provides a compelling and truthful portrait of the great Victorian novelist."

If this sounds of interest, please send a message to The Book Club before 7th February for your chance to receive a copy.


The Book Club


Neil Report 17 Feb 2014 15:15

Toby's Room Pat Barker

Sexual shenanigans, hinting at incest, in the wastrel, useless, idle rich just before the Great War. So yawn, so ordinary, so dull, but by blending real characters and places into the background, notably Harold Gillies and Queen Mary's Hospital, Sidcup the otherwise wasted lives start to take on real meaning and people, the spoilt brat Elinor, Toby her dead brother and the narcisstic Neville with a destroyed face requiring to be rebuilt by Gillies and his team; finally through Pat Barker's clever writing become well almost interesting.

Wavering throughout the books sneaks the mysterious wizard Professor, Henry Tonks weaving spells of horror and dropping ugly thoughts into every mind, spreading both gloom and possibility everywhere.

Not a book, nor an author, I would ever have chosen for myself, nor am I likely to pick up another of her first world war/Slade finishing school novels but interesting as an aside into the sort of book other people might enjoy. For this, albeit small change in my life I am slightly grateful to the Genes Reunited Book Club, however I feel sure there will be many more, and much better, great war revisionary novels over the next couple of years.

:-( :-(