the guardian Fri 29 August 2008
Studying at the Slade and hanging out with bohemian types in the Café Royal is a world away from Paul Tarrant's upbringing in the industrial north. A legacy from his grandmother helps his childhood ambition to be an artist, but it does not guarantee success, and Paul, stung by criticism that he has "nothing to say", begins to doubt his talent. Fortunately a passionate affair with Teresa, an artist's model, serves to distract him, as does a more serious infatuation with fellow student Elinor. However, as Elinor and Paul draw closer, the first world war breaks out. Returning to the familiar territory of her Regeneration trilogy, Barker gives a visceral account of the conflict and explores the psychological responses of her characters to the slaughter. Paul re-evaluates his existence, while his painting, ironically, is imbued with a hitherto absent authority. But for Elinor war is something painful to ignore. Emotionally complex and powerfully written, Barker's novel captures the breathless intensity of existence in a world where all certainty has been swept away.