cover image Noonday


Pat Barker. Doubleday, $27.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-385-53772-8

Barker concludes a trilogy that began with three students at the Slade School of Fine Art in the run-up to World War I (Life Class), in this third volume, which takes the former classmates to London during the Blitz in 1940. Elinor Brooke and Paul Tarrant are now married and middle-aged. Paul is an air raid warden, and Elinor drives an ambulance. The third classmate, their mutual friend Kit Neville, arrives from America, where he has left behind his wife and daughter, and goes to work for the Ministry of Information as a German translator. Despite all the death and destruction around them, all three still try to advance their painting careers. Elinor even receives a commission from Kenneth Clark of the War Artists Advisory Committee. But an indiscretion on Paul’s part causes a rift in his marriage to Elinor, one that Kit, who says he has always loved her, sets out to exploit. And forever hanging over the story is the ghostly presence of Elinor’s brother, Toby, killed in action during WWI. Unfortunately, Barker’s depiction of how Londoners bravely put up with Hitler’s nightly bombing raids feels flat and familiar. The narrative meanders among several new characters—Kenny, a lost boy of the Blitz, and Bertha Mason, a medium—to limited effect, before finishing up in a flurry of melodramatic plot developments. In the end, this is a disappointing third act to a series that lacks the impact of Barker’s superior Regeneration trilogy. (Mar.)