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.

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Some of the other students had already started drawing. Reluctantly, she sat down and looked at the model. Slack breasts, belly wrinkled from decades of childbearing, and a greyish pallor to the skin, as if she’d kept herself going for years on doorsteps of bread and dripping and mugs of stewed tea. Not all the models looked like that; some of the younger ones were really beautiful. She’d overheard two male students laughing about Tonks and one particularly attractive model, insinuating that she was his mistress. Elinor hadn’t believed it, not for a second. But now, suddenly, she did.

She knew that some of the women students waited outside Tonks’s house for him to set off on his evening walk. So many Héloïses and only one Abelard: no wonder the atmosphere was fraught. Not that he’d be stupid enough to do anything with a female student. Flirtation, yes; never more. He’d go for models and married women, working, as so many men did, on the well-tried and tested principle that a slice off a cut cake won’t be missed. She remembered Father helping the dark-haired girl into the cab, his face, as he looked down at her, almost unrecognizable. All her life, Elinor had been brought up not to know things, but not knowing didn’t keep you safe.

She forced herself to pick up a pencil and at once, almost involuntarily, she began to draw Tonks, working with a sureness of touch she’d never experienced in this room before. All those things Tonks tried to drill into them, day after day: look for the line, try to see the direction, no such thing as a contour in nature — suddenly it all made sense. And it was easy, so easy: every mark the pencil made seemed to be the only mark possible. But then, Tonks moved away from the wall, breaking the pose and with it her concentration.

Reaching for a fresh piece of paper, she started work on the model. She knew before she started that the foreshortening of the pose was beyond her, but still she scraped away until, after forty minutes of dibbling and dabbling about, she sat back and contemplated her work.

‘God, that’s awful,’ she said, shocked into speaking aloud.

‘Hmm. Certainly isn’t your best.’

She hadn’t heard him approach. He bent forward, his sleeve a black wing brushing her face, and picked up the drawing. But in so doing he revealed the portrait of himself underneath.

She waited for the explosion of anger, one of his rare, white-lipped rages that she’d heard about but never witnessed.

Instead, he burst out laughing. ‘Really, Miss Brooke, you flatter me.’

Without further comment, he took her drawing of the model and began making quick, anatomical sketches in the margin, each of them better than anything she’d managed to achieve. Tonks’s skeletons had more life than her nudes. She tried to concentrate on what he was saying, but it was hopeless: she was too aware of whispers spreading round the room. By the end of the session, everybody knew what she’d done.

No sooner had Tonks left the room than her friends clustered round her. ‘Oh, Elinor, you didn’t.’ ‘What did he say?’ ‘Come on, let’s see it.’ ‘Don’t be such a spoilsport.’ Finally, a gasp of sheer horror: ‘It wasn’t nude, was it?’

She escaped as soon as she could. Outside the quad gates, she hesitated. If she went back to her lodgings now, she might well spend the rest of the day in bed with the covers pulled over her head. No, somehow or other, she had to keep going, and she had to get away from the Slade.

Russell Square was the nearest green space. She often came here, though not usually at lunchtime. The benches were crowded with people eating soggy sandwiches from greaseproof-paper bags. She found herself a place on the grass and lay down, lifting her face to the sun. Somewhere near by a fountain played, though the sound of trickling water brought no relief. God, it was hot. She could barely swallow, her throat was so dry. At the far end of the square was a hut with a few tables outside, where you could buy lemonade, but there was a long queue. Not worth it, she decided. Not in this heat.

Thoughts floated to the surface of her mind and burst like bubbles. I should have brought a drawing pad. You never really felt alone if you were drawing; it formed a sort of cocoon around you. And why didn’t I wear a thinner dress? That queue’s quite a bit shorter now. And why, why, wasn’t she wearing a straw hat? She had one — well, it was there somewhere — only that morning she’d been in such a state she’d grabbed the first thing she could lay her hands on. Black felt, oh God, far too hot in this weather, although at least she could pull it down and hide her cropped hair. But now her scalp itched. A bead of sweat ran down into her eye, burning like acid, and suddenly it was all too much. She tore the hat off, leaned forward and shook her fingers through her hair.

At the same moment, a shadow fell across her. Peering up through the mess of jagged ends, she saw Kit Neville, in a baggy, creased suit, looking down at her.

‘Miss Brooke, you look rather hot, I wonder if you’d like some lemonade?’

‘There’s a queue.’

‘It’s not so bad now. Shall I get us some?’

She nodded, trying to think of something slightly more gracious to say, but he’d already turned away. He’d startled her, appearing in front of her so suddenly. When he vanished behind a clump of bushes, she was half inclined to think he’d been a mirage, but no, minutes later, there he was again, his burly figure making great strides across the grass, a ragged shadow snatching at his heels.

He handed her a glass. ‘Don’t know how cool it is, mind.’

Cautiously, with an audible clicking of the knees, he lowered himself to sit beside her, risking grass stains on his obviously expensive suit. That was one of the things you noticed about Kit Neville. He wore extremely well-tailored suits, and he looked a mess. She didn’t particularly like the man — or, rather, she didn’t like what she’d heard about him. He was a bully, people said. But now, looking at him, she saw none of the swaggering self-confidence he projected so expertly at the Slade. He seemed, if anything, distinctly shy, afraid of rejection.

He took a sip of lemonade. ‘Ugh! Warm.’

‘Least it’s wet. And thank you for getting it, I just couldn’t face the queue.’

They drank in silence for a moment. Then: ‘Are you going back to college?’ he asked. ‘Only if you’re not, we could go on the river.’

The idea of playing truant for the whole afternoon shocked her. ‘No, I’ve got to get back.’

He was tempted to skip the men’s life class, he said. Couldn’t face another dose of Tonks. He seemed to have developed almost a feud with Tonks, whose excoriating comments on his work were passed from mouth to mouth, losing nothing in the repetition. ‘Did you hear what Tonks said to Neville?’ ‘Oh, he didn’t, did he?’ ‘I think if anybody said that to me, I’d leave.’ Suddenly, it all seemed rather immature to Elinor: the relish, the furtive excitement, children wetting themselves with glee because somebody else was in trouble. She had been guilty of it herself, more than once, but she wouldn’t do it again, because, in the length of time it took to drink a glass of lemonade, Kit had become a friend.

Getting up was difficult. She’d got pins and needles from sitting in the same position too long; she rested a hand, briefly, on his arm to steady herself and caught a glance of such open admiration that she blushed. He’d made no comment on her hair, but he hadn’t taken his eyes off it either. Perhaps short hair wasn’t such a disaster, after all.

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