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Set in London during the ‘Blitz’ of autumn 1940, this final volume in Pat Barker’s wartime trilogy demands quite a lot from readers. I had the advantage of having recently read the first two books, the excellent Life Class and Toby’s Room which in my view set a new standard for accounts of the impact of the First War on the everyday lives of everyone.
I wonder if anyone reading this as a 'free-standing' book will successfully appreciate the complex back story of the relationships between the three principle characters. I also found myself re-reading some passages to understand which of the three points of view I was now following.
Having said that, this is without question the best researched and most compelling fictional account of the Blitz I’ve ever read. Pat Barker cleverly lulls you into a false sense of security, as the ambulance crews and wardens seem to dodge bombs and incendiaries with amazing impunity. Then, of course, we experience the cruelly indiscriminate nature of the bombing.
Paul Tarrant, having survived the worst horrors of the trenches in the First World War, soon makes up his mind he is going to die. This acceptance has understandable consequences, which I am sure could have happened to anyone living through such a nightmare.
My favourite passages are where we return to the diary of our heroine, Elinor Brooke, although I struggled to remember she would have been past middle age by this time, so more reminders would have helped.
I had almost finished the book when I was lucky to listen to a BBC Open Book special, where Pat Barker discusses writing her trilogy with Mariella Frostrup. This answered many of my questions. I learnt that Pat’s husband sadly passed away while she was writing Toby’s Room, which helps to explain the deepening sense of grief and loss conveyed so brilliantly in Noonday. I had also been confused by the inclusion of a minor character, the obese, fraudulent clairvoyant, who turns out to be a figure recalled from Pat's past.
Interestingly for me, Pat also explains how difficult it is to write the final novel of a trilogy. As well as having to let go of characters crafted with such care, she admits her nervousness about being able to do the whole trilogy justice. I can hear an echo of Elinor Brookes in her self-deprecation.
This is certainly a thought provoking book, which brings one of the darkest periods of Britain’s history into sharp focus. It is a classic story of love and loss, and the resilience of the human spirit against the most overwhelming odds, and for that I highly recommend it.
(Disclosure: The review copy was provided by Penguin Random House UK.)
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About the Author
Pat Barker was born in Thornaby-on-Tees and attended the London School of Economics. She has been a teacher of history and politics and lives in Durham, UK Pat Barker's books include Union Street (1982), winner of the 1983 Fawcett Prize, which has been filmed as "Stanley and Iris"; Blow Your House Down (1984); Liza's England (1986), The Man Who Wasn't There (1989) and the highly acclaimed Regeneration trilogy, comprising Regeneration, The Eye in The Door, winner of the 1993 Guardian Fiction Prize, and The Ghost Road, winner of the 1995 Booker Prize for Fiction.