Pat Barker: Toby's Room

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Pat Barker Toby's Room
  • Название:
    Toby's Room
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  • 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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Elinor was trying to read her mother’s expression. Jealousy? Yes. Resentment of their closeness, hers and Toby’s? Yes. But something else too. It occurred to her, for the first time, that perhaps Toby had formed so effective a barrier between herself and the rest of the family, that her mother might actually feel some grief for the loss of her.

No, no. She was being over-analytical, or just plain stupid. Her mother wouldn’t feel anything for the loss of her, except, quite possibly, relief.

And yet, if things had been different, she might have taken the place of the lost girl. In many families, that’s exactly what would have happened, but not in this one.

She said, stiffly: ‘Thank you for telling me.’

‘I thought it might help … You’re getting to know a lot of new people and that’s good, of course, but sometimes I think perhaps Toby’s a bit afraid of losing you. He hasn’t been happy recently, and I don’t know why.’

‘No, but then we don’t know very much about him, do we?’

She would have gone on, but her mother held up a hand. Toby and Tim were striding up the lawn.

Elinor felt as though she was watching them from a great height, almost as if she were one of the birds that their guns had startled into the air. Two young men in shooting jackets and cord breeches, squinting into the sun, while on the terrace a woman and a girl, both in white dresses, rose to meet them. A jarring of two worlds, or so it seemed to her, looking down.

Suddenly, she was hurtling to the ground. Back in her body, she stared at the thing that dangled from Toby’s hand: a gleam of white bone in a mess of blood-spiked fur, eyes filmed over. The silence gathered.

‘It’s a hare,’ she said.


‘It’s bad luck to kill a hare.’

‘Won’t stop you eating it, though, will it?’ Tim said, with an attempt at jocularity. He was no fool, he sensed the atmosphere; he just didn’t know what to do about it.

‘I thought it was a rabbit,’ Toby said.

She could see how he hated it, the limp, lifeless thing in his hand. Looking through his eyes, from his brain outwards, she saw the hare come over the hill, flowing like water through the long grasses. Oh, he’d have called the bullet back if he could, she didn’t doubt that, but it was too late. Flies were already laying their eggs inside the bloody hole.

‘Elinor —’

Refusing even to look at him, she turned and went back into the house.


Climbing the stairs to her lodgings, Elinor felt vulnerable; an animal leaving a trail of blood behind in the snow. Even with the door locked, the gas ring lit and the kettle boiling, she still didn’t feel safe.

She forced herself to butter a slice of stale bread, but her stomach rose at the sight of it. Although it was still early she went into the bedroom and undressed, wrapped a robe tightly round her and then sat down at the dressing table to brush her hair. The nightly ritual: she’d done this every night since she was four or five years old. The face in the mirror stared back at her with no sign of recognition.

Suddenly, she was rummaging through the top drawer searching for her scissors. As soon as she found them, she began hacking away at her hair. The blades weren’t sharp enough; they mouthed thick clumps of hair like a snake struggling to ingest a rat. Still, she persevered. Floating between her and the glass, she saw the flattened, scroll-like body of the little female thing Toby had killed. Oh, what nonsense, of course he hadn’t killed it; he hadn’t killed anybody. It had died, that was all, it had died, and he went on growing, as he was bound to do, taking up more and more room until there was no space left for her.

How quiet it was in these rooms. She’d not yet learned to live alone, though she’d been excited at the prospect, not nervous at all. She had close friends near by, Catherine and Ruthie, so she knew she wouldn’t be lonely. Now, she realized that silence has a sound; well, this kind of silence did anyway: toxic silence. Somewhere between a hum and a buzz. Only the crunching of the scissors through her hair interrupted it. When she’d finished cutting, she raised both hands to the nape of her neck, feeling the dangerous freedom of the shorn ends. Her hair lay in coils and question marks around her feet. She scooped it up and put it in the bin.

Lying between the sheets, she felt different; her body had turned into bread dough, dough that’s been kneaded and pounded till it’s grey, lumpen, no yeast in it, no lightness, no prospect of rising. Her arms lay stiff by her sides. When, finally, she drifted off to sleep, she dreamt she was on her knees in a corner of the room, trying to vomit without attracting the attention of the person who was asleep on the bed. Her eyes wide open in the darkness, she tried to cast off the dream, but it stayed with her till morning.

At seven, she forced herself out of bed, determined to go into the Slade at her usual time. Everything was normal, she was normal, she wasn’t even going to think about it. Though she’d need to keep her hat on in the studio; she didn’t normally, but she just couldn’t face the inevitable comments on her hair.

In the ground-floor cloakroom, she bumped into Catherine, who asked about her weekend. Fine, she said, a really nice break. Then, quickly, she asked about the dressmaking session. It was a hoot, Catherine said. She should have seen them, giggling and sticking pins into each other. They were doing it again, next Saturday. Would she be able to come?

‘Yes,’ Elinor said.

‘Really? But you always go home.’

‘Not this weekend.’

She let Catherine go on ahead, pretending she had to look for something in her bag. As soon as she was alone, she took off her hat and stared into the brown-spotted mirror behind the washbasins. Huge, frightened eyes looked back at her. The cropped hair revealed the shape of her head, which was remarkably like Toby’s. All that chopping and hacking and all she’d succeeded in doing was to make herself look even more like him.

Impatient with herself, she turned away. She had to face people; there was nothing to be gained by putting it off. At least in her baggy, ankle-length smock she hardly looked like a woman at all. And that was a comfort: any exposed skin felt dangerous. Resisting the temptation to tuck her hands into her sleeves, she walked along the corridor to the life class. Even her hands looked different as she was signing the register: longer, thinner, with prominent tendons and raised veins. Her signature too, usually so sprawling and self-confident, seemed to have crumpled and folded in on itself, like a spider in the bath when the first swirl of hot water reaches it.

Professor Tonks had arrived early and was leaning against the wall at the far end of the room: a tall, formally dressed, thin, ascetic man with the face of a Roman emperor, or a fish eagle. Behind him, the wall was covered in palette-knife scrapings, the colours cancelling each other out, so that his black-suited figure was outlined in swirls of shimmering grey. Like birds’ feathers. It was actually rather a remarkable sight.

You wouldn’t need a plumb line to draw Tonks: his body was a plumb line. How tall would he be? Six five? Something like that. She remembered coming to the Slade for her admittance interview, how intimidated she’d been, by his height, by his manner; and his reception of her drawings had done nothing to make her feel less silly, less immature. Her schoolteachers had praised her work so highly; she’d won prizes, for heaven’s sake, and not piddling little local prizes either, proper prizes, national prizes. Tonks held those same drawings up to the light, and winced. It was like having a bucket of icy water thrown in your face. She’d come up gasping, shocked out of her complacency, and more alive than she’d ever felt.

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