Noonday: A Novel
Author: Pat Barker
Publisher: Doubleday (2015)
Genre: Historical Fiction
Hardcover Edition: 307 pages
Source: Library Copy
Noonday cannot be called a comfortable read. Barker’s subjects are war, trauma, family conflict. This time she takes the reader right into the center of the horror of the London Blitz of near-nightly bombings during World War II. She vividly recreates the sights, sounds, smells of that time and place. More, she makes it possible for the reader to feel sensations in the pit of the stomach, the scratchiness in the ears and eyes, the unsteadiness of gait that people living then must have felt.
Noonday is the final book of the Life Class Trilogy. The three young London art students, Elinor Brooke, Kit Neville, and Paul Tarrant, the center of the first of the novels Life Class and all scarred in different ways by World War I, are now middle-aged painters in London dealing with the nightly bombings and blackouts. One is an air-raid warden; two are ambulance drivers. Until reading this book, I had never understood the bitterness English people and English fictional characters often hold toward Americans. It’s much easier to understand such feelings when that time of England standing alone in the night beneath constant bombing by the Germans is examined under such a brilliant light.
The plot is bolstered by an evacuee child named Kenny and cluttered with a spirit medium named Bertha Mason. The three main characters work their way through jealous competition, love and loss, hoping to find their way to some degree of hope and comfort.
There’s enough horror and hurt for twice the number of characters. These three are haunted by their personal histories. (It would no doubt be a more satisfying reading experience to read the three novels in close succession, since past informs present.) All three face difficult forces and worry over their choices. What will be the resolution as they spend their nights under the bombs? The strong characters Barker creates drive the reader to turn the pages of the story. She makes her readers care deeply what happens to these rather ordinary and boring people.
Titles of the two preceding books in the trilogy are Life Class (2007) and Toby’s Room (2012). British novelist Pat Barker is a winner of the Booker Prize. Many readers know her for her acclaimed Regeneration Trilogy published in the 1990’s. If you are a reader of historical fiction and you like wartime drama with a heavy dose of reality, I highly recommend her work.