Pat Barker’s Regeneration was the book that got me interested in war literature. It was part of a trilogy known as the Regeneration Trilogy and I absolutely loved all three of the novels. I had been meaning to read Toby’s Room (2012) for a while, and was pleased when I finally had the time to do so.
Toby’s Room begins in 1912, where you are introduced to Elinor and her brother, Toby. Elinor is studying art at Slade, and lives in London, which is where Toby is studying to be a doctor. Part 2 of the story is set in 1917, during the height of World War 1.
The focus of the story is a beautifully written blend of a sister’s obsession with trying to understand, and come to terms with what happened to her brother during the war, and the way in which war artists dealt with the war, and how society treated those whose appearances had been physically altered due to war.
A lot of the story takes place at the Queen Mary hospital in Sidcup. Henry Tonks, an artist, teacher and doctor draws the patients throughout their treatment, and this is something that Elinor also begins to do. At the end of the book, Pat Barker mentions that these medical illustrations can actually be viewed online at http://www.gilliesarchives.org.uk/ – well worth a look.
Barker weaves fact and fiction together in an amazing way. In theRegeneration trilogy, Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen and Robert Graves as the central ‘fictional’ characters, and in Toby’s Room, Barker fictionalises a group of well-known artists from that period – including Henry Tonks.
This book is very well written, and I love the way in which Barker draws upon so many true events, which makes the story even more powerful. If, like me, you love war literature, I would seriously recommend this book (and the Regeneration trilogy if you haven’t read it), but even if war literature isn’t your usual genre,Toby’s Room is interesting and very moving, and I would still really encourage you to give it a go