Pat Barker, Noonday (Hamish Hamilton 2015)
Just a short post on this:
Pat Barker’s Regeneration trilogy is a magnificent work about World War One. Noonday is the final book in a different trilogy – one which began, in Life Class, before that war, and which takes its characters, those who survive, into the London of the Blitz.
I read Life Class too long ago – all I remember is the life drawing class that it opens with, in which the woman protagonist is dumped on by the instructor, and my blog entry about it explains why I didn’t go chasing after the second volume, Toby’s Room.
Noonday is worth reading for its evocation of London during the blitz. These days when the slogan’Keep Calm and Carry on’ and its parodies adorn a million mugs and tea towels, and the movie of Dad’s Army approaches with its no doubt charming and hilarious ragtag segment of the land army (not that there’s anything wrong with either phenomenon), it’s good to have this vivid reminder that it was a time of great suffering and great heroism.
But the main characters, three artists with varying degrees of success, aren’t all that interesting. Two of them are married at the start and not at the end, and it’s never very clear what happened. There’s adultery, which seems to be a big deal, at least for one of them, but I kept thinking of Bogart’s line in Casablanca: ‘It doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.’
Then there’s a weird subplot involving a grossly overweight woman who is both a charlatan claiming to give the bereaved messages from their dead loved ones, and a genuine psychic. I didn’t know what to make of that, and in the end didn’t care.
So, at the risk of sounding as if I’m ten years old, I’d say read it for the account of London during the Blitz, but skim the talky-talky lovey-dovey bits.