I was fascinated and moved by REGENERATION, a true masterpiece , when I read it. I am equally transported by TOBY`S ROOM and couldn`t put it down, such is the power of Pat`s writing. Elinor Brooke`s story begins in 1912. She is home for a weekend from the Slade School of Fine Art and is looking forward to seeing her beloved brother Toby, who is studying to be a doctor, also in London. They share a very close bond – they discover just how close that weekend. They return to their respective lodgings and their chosen paths to enjoy all that the city can offer – but they have changed.
1917 and the War has drained the hearts and minds of the population. Elinor has graduated and is now a member of the celebrated Bloomsbury artists who are all conscientious objectors. Elinor describes herself as a “pond skater” – going through the motions of a normal life but ignoring the horrors of the deeper parts. The image of the pond recurs throughout the book. And is crucial to Elinor and Toby`s early life in the country. Then comes news of Toby from the Front – “missing, presumed dead”.
Pat writes with sensitivity and perspicacity as Elinor tries to find out the truth of Toby`s fate. Is he really dead or is there hope? His uniform has been sent back to the family and she puts it first in the attic but then changes her mind and put it in Toby`s room. She contacts Kit Neville, the last person to see Toby alive, but he is in The Queen Mary`s Hospital in Sidcup, having his maimed face reconstructed by Harold Gillies the pioneer of facial reconstruction. Elinor by this time is working at the hospital with Henry Tonks, Chief of Fine Arts at the Slade, recording injuries and helping to reconstruct faces irreparably damaged in the war. Kit won`t talk about Toby, so Elinor enlists the help of Paul Tarrant, a former lover and also a fellow soldier. Will Kit tell him the truth about Toby? Is the devastating culmination of her search worth knowing?
Pat touches on many elements which war accentuates: the obsession with sex, with self-doubt, with loss and grief. She is finely observant of the nuances of feeling in her characters, some of whom are real (Henry Tonks and Harold Gillies) and of the minutiae of corporeal detail linked to those feelings and physical states. She also conveys the real struggle which artists experience when trying to paint. Her perspicacity is phenomenal.
An amazing book by a superbly talented writer.
Review by Liz.
Thank you to Penguin for sending us a copy to review.