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.

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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.

They walked back to the Slade together. At the entrance to the quad, they paused. Groups of art students were chatting in circles on the grass, while on the steps of the medical school rows of young men were lined up side by side, looking, in their black suits, like swallows waiting to migrate.

‘Perhaps we should go in separately?’ he said. Male and female students were not supposed to mix.

‘No, I think we should have the courage of our convictions.’

She took his arm and, conscious of heads turning to follow them, they marched across the lawn, through the double doors and into the entrance hall, where a single glance from a disapproving receptionist was enough to make them collapse into giggles.

Suddenly serious, Kit said, ‘I enjoyed that. I hope we can do it again.’

‘Yes, I hope so too.’

They parted at the foot of the stairs. The last hour seemed extraordinary to Elinor, though they’d done nothing special. Only, for those few minutes, in spite of everything, she’d been happy.

Every afternoon, when Elinor left the Slade, she looked up at the steps of the medical school, half expecting to see Toby there, waiting for her, as he so often had in the past; but it was a week before she saw him again, and then he came to her lodgings.

She was sitting at her dressing table, getting ready to go out, when she heard footsteps running up the last — uncarpeted — flight of stairs. The door was unlocked. Toby called to her from the living room, briefly darkened the bedroom doorway, and came to stand behind her. She didn’t turn round, merely looked at his reflection in the glass.

He was staring at her hair. ‘My God, sis, what have you done?’


‘What do you think? Do you like it?’

‘No, well, it’s a bit of a shock … No, no, it’s good, it suits you.’ His eyes skittered round the room. ‘When did you do it?’

‘When I got back.’

He sat on the bed, big hands clasped between his thighs, bulky, helpless. It made her angry.

‘I was surprised you left so early,’ she said.

‘Dad gave me a lift. No point hanging around.’

‘Mother was a bit put out.’ She waited. ‘We had quite a long chat, you know, Mother and me. While you and Tim were out shooting.’ Was that fleeting change of expression one of fear? ‘Did you know you were a twin?’


She was taken aback. ‘So why didn’t you tell me?’

‘Didn’t seem important.’

She thought of the boy in the garden playing with a girl whom nobody else could see. ‘Mother doesn’t even know where she’s buried.’


‘Well, yes. They wouldn’t —’

‘It’s in a museum, a medical museum. Edinburgh, I think.’ His eyes slid away. ‘They are quite rare.’

‘So what happened? The doctor gave her to a museum?’

He looked down.

‘No. Dad wouldn’t do that,’ she said. ‘His own flesh and blood?’

‘Oh, listen to yourself: “His own flesh and blood.” He’s a scientist, for God’s sake.’

‘I can see it mightn’t be much of a barrier to you.’

They’d got there, by a rather circular route, but there, nevertheless. She watched the Adam’s apple jerking in his throat. Like everything else about him, it seemed to be trying to escape.

‘You came to me,’ he said. ‘I’ll take ninety per cent of the blame, but I won’t take it all.’

It was impossible to speak without crying, and she was determined not to cry. So she said nothing, sitting there with her face in her hands and her eyes closed. After a moment, she felt him get up and come to stand behind her again. He reached out, but stopped just short of touching her shoulder, though close enough for her to feel the heat of his fingertips. She remembered the sea-anemone groping of his mouth, the shock of his harsh bristles on her skin.

‘If you like, I’ll stay away from you,’ he said. ‘You won’t have to see me again.’

Christmas? Birthdays?

She put up a hand and twined her fingers round his. ‘You know I don’t want that.’

‘Neither do I.’

They looked at each other in the glass, then for the first time she turned to face him directly. He touched the side of her face, lowered his head … With his mouth less than an inch away from hers, he recoiled violently, almost as if some external force had grabbed him by the hair and pulled him off. Breathing heavily, he said, ‘We’ve got to get back to the way things were.’

‘I don’t know how they were.’

‘We were friends.’

She shook her head. ‘No. If we’d been friends it would never have happened.’

‘We’ve got to try. Sis?’

‘Yes, I suppose we do. Bro.’

He took a short step back. Released.

‘I’ve brought my anatomy textbooks. You must be starting the course soon.’

How easily he’d returned to ‘normal’. She felt a spasm of anger, but relief too. A minute ago, she’d thought it was starting again, and she wasn’t sure she could have stopped him, or herself. Because he was right, she’d gone to him, gone in bewilderment and ignorance, nursing vague childish schemes of revenge, yes, but had that been her only motivation? The more she thought about that night the more … complicit she felt.

Now, she followed him through into the living room; they sat on the sofa, side by side, and talked about the anatomy course she’d be starting on Monday. And after a while, things did begin to seem normal, almost normal, though she noticed he sat a few feet away from her, about as far away as he could get. Even so, there seemed to be no space between them. If she closed her eyes for a second, she could feel the prickle of their shared sweat on her thigh.

Anatomy was Toby’s favourite subject, his passion, and he was a good teacher. As he talked, she forgot to feel distaste for the scurf of human skin on his notes, and simply marvelled, as he did, at the beauty and complexity of what lay beneath.

‘You’ll enjoy it, sis, honestly you will. Bit of a shock at first, but you soon get over that. I’m sure once you get the hang of it, it’ll really help your drawing, and then, wow — the next Michelangelo.’

‘I don’t like muscly men.’

‘Oh, well, never mind …’

He stayed for exactly one hour. It was like a tutorial. When he got up to go, she accompanied him to the front door, not wanting to be left, too abruptly, in a room that would still be full of his presence. He called her ‘sis’ again as he said goodbye. She watched him walk off down the street, unloading guilt behind him, step by step.

With his departure, her anger returned. All that stuff about bringing his anatomy textbooks … He’d come to say one word, no, not even that, the stupid, amputated stump of a word: sis. That was his pledge that what had happened between them would never happen again, that it would, in time, be forgotten.

And it was all lies. At one point, back there in the bedroom, they’d been on the verge of starting all over again. She’d felt it; she didn’t believe he hadn’t felt it too. How could he come as close as that, and then tell her to forget?

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