Pat Barker: Toby's Room

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Pat Barker Toby's Room
  • Название:
    Toby's Room
  • Автор:
  • Издательство:
    Hamish Hamilton
  • Жанр:
    Историческая проза / на английском языке
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Toby's Room: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Pat Barker, Booker prize-winning author of the Regeneration trilogy returns to WWI in this dark, compelling novel of human desire, wartime horror and the power of friendship. Toby and Elinor, brother and sister, friends and confidants, are sharers of a dark secret, carried from the summer of 1912 into the battlefields of France and wartime London in 1917. When Toby is reported 'Missing, Believed Killed', another secret casts a lengthening shadow over Elinor's world: how exactly did Toby die — and why? Elinor's fellow student Kit Neville was there in the fox-hole when Toby met his fate, but has secrets of his own to keep. Enlisting the help of former lover Paul Tarrant, Elinor determines to uncover the truth. Only then can she finally close the door to Toby's room. Moving from the Slade School of Art to Queen Mary's Hospital, where surgery and art intersect in the rebuilding of the shattered faces of the wounded, Toby's Room is a riveting drama of identity, damage, intimacy and loss from the author of The Eye in the Door and The Ghost Road. It is Pat Barker's most powerful novel yet.

Pat Barker: другие книги автора

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She crossed to the bed and looked down at him. Like her, he’d left the curtains open; his skin in the moonlight had the glitter of salt. Leaning towards him, she felt his breath on her face. She knew there was something she wanted to do, but she didn’t know what it was. Jerk him awake? Shock him out of that infuriatingly peaceful, deep sleep? Yes, but how? There was a jug of water on the washstand near the bed. She twined her fingers round the handle, raised it high above her head …

And then, just as she was about to pour, he opened his eyes. He didn’t move, or speak, or try to get out of the way. He simply lay there, looking up at her. In the dimness, his light-famished pupils flared to twice their normal size, and forever afterwards, when she tried to recapture this moment, she remembered his eyes as black. Neither of them spoke. Slowly, she lowered the jug.

The chink, as she set it down on the marble stand, seemed to release him. He reached out, closed his hand gently round her wrist, and pulled her down towards him.


Every window gaped wide, as if the house were gasping for breath. Barely visible above the trees, a small, hard, white sun threatened the heat to come. Mother’s precious lawn had turned yellow, with bald patches here and there where the cracked earth showed through.

Elinor chased clumps of pale yellow scrambled egg around her plate. It was absolutely necessary that she should appear to eat, but so far she hadn’t managed to force one mouthful down.

‘Water?’ Mother asked. She topped up her own and Elinor’s glass without waiting for a reply.

‘Look at Hobbes,’ Elinor said.

Hearing his name, Hobbes raised his head, fixed his bloodshot eyes on her for a moment, then sank his slobbering jowls on to his paws again.

Her mother’s face softened, as it never did when she looked at Elinor. ‘Poor old thing, he really hates this weather.’

‘Yes, imagine this in a fur coat.’

They ate in silence for a while.

‘You were very quiet last night,’ Mother said.

‘Headache, I expect. Where is everybody?’

‘Rachel’s having a lie-in. Your father’s in his study, been up since six, and Tim and Toby have gone shooting.’

‘Toby hates shooting.’

Her mother’s jaw clicked as she chewed on a triangle of dry toast. ‘Well, that’s where they’ve gone.’

Conversation wilted in the heat. Soon there was no sound except for a discreet, well-bred scraping of knives on plates. Elinor could feel her mother’s gaze heavy on the side of her face. She put her fork down.

‘Shall we have coffee outside?’ her mother said.

They took their cups on to the terrace where a table and chairs had been set up overlooking the lawn. The smell of dry grass tightened Elinor’s chest; she was finding it difficult to breathe.

‘Are you all right?’

‘I’m fine. Looks like we’re in for another scorcher.’

Her mother tested the cushion for dampness before sitting down. ‘It needs a thunderstorm, freshen things up.’

As she spoke, the crack of a rifle sent wood pigeons blundering into the air. Elinor drew a deep breath, or as deep as she could manage, and gazed straight ahead.

‘You and Toby haven’t quarrelled, have you?’

‘What makes you think that?’

‘I thought I detected a bit of an atmosphere last night.’

‘No, I was just tired.’

Mother sipped her coffee, put the cup down, dabbed her lips on the napkin. ‘I want to tell you something, Elinor.’

This might have sounded like the beginning of a mother — daughter chat, except that she and her mother never had them. That was Rachel’s province. The bare minimum of information that had been imparted to Elinor when she reached the age of thirteen had been conveyed by Rachel, in this, as in all other things, their mother’s deputy.

‘I don’t think I’ve ever told you Toby was a twin?’

This was the last thing she’d expected. ‘No, I had no idea. Well …’ She tried to gather her thoughts. ‘What happened?’

‘It died. She. It was a girl.’

She swallowed, obviously finding it difficult to go on. She was a reticent woman — or vacant — Elinor had never been sure which, though she was inclined to favour vacancy. ‘Bland’ was the word. It was almost as if her mother’s beauty, which even now was remarkable, had taken the place of a personality.

‘I never felt really well when I was expecting him, and with Rachel I had — in fact, I felt wonderful; but with Toby, no. I was so breathless by the end I used to sleep sitting up. And then when I went into labour it was … Well, it was difficult. A whole day and half the following night.’

Elinor winced. ‘I couldn’t do it.’

‘When you’re nine months pregnant, dear, you don’t have a lot of choice. Anyway, he was born, at last, and of course I felt relief and joy and all the things you do feel, and it actually took me quite a while to realize the midwife was looking worried. She called the doctor — he was downstairs having a drink with your father — and I’ll never forget him coming through the door.’ She cupped a hand over her right eye. ‘His eyes just bulged. And then there was a great flurry and panic and … this thing came out.’

She was folding her napkin, carefully running her fingers along the creases. ‘It had died quite late in the pregnancy, six, seven months, something like that. Normally, if a baby dies, labour starts straight away, but for some reason it hadn’t. And so Toby went on growing and, as he grew, he’d flattened it against the side of the womb. They didn’t want me to see it, but I said, “No, I’ve got to.” I said if they didn’t let me see it, I’d only imagine far worse things …’ She glanced at Elinor, then quickly away. ‘I don’t know what the worse things would’ve been. It had turned into a kind of scroll. You know the parchment things the Romans used to write on? A bit like that, but with features, everything. You could tell it was a girl.’

What to say? ‘That’s awful, I’m so sorry.’

‘It’s called a papyrus twin, when that happens. Apparently, it’s very rare. The doctor and your father got quite excited.’

‘I’m sure Father didn’t.’

Her mother smiled.

‘Does Toby know?’

‘I’ve never told him. Your father might have mentioned it, I don’t know.’

Another burst of gunfire from the wood. Rooks, crows and pigeons were circling over the treetops now, the air full of their cries.

‘When he was little, Toby, he had this imaginary friend. I suppose a lot of children do, but this one was very real; I mean, we had to set a place for her at the table, and everything. I wasn’t worried, I thought it would all disappear as soon as he started playing with other children and made some real friends. But it didn’t. I used to lie awake at night sometimes and listen to him talking to her. I think I almost started to believe in her myself.’

‘Did she have a name?’

‘D’you know, I can’t remember.’

‘So what happened? Well, she’s not still here, is she?’

Another, slightly acid, smile.

‘You. You happened. As soon as you could walk, you followed Toby round like a little dog. I used to think he’d get tired of it, but he never did. And the girl vanished. He didn’t need her any more, you see. He had you.’

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