Written by Pat Barker
Review by James Hawking

This novel completes the trilogy which began with Life Class and Toby’s Room. London in 1940 features shattered glass, buildings on the verge of collapse, and the sound of Nazi planes buzzing their implicit death threats. Even the roses seem to expect to be bombed, a use of the pathetic fallacy that seems appropriate. Rationing makes coffee precious and a pair of nylon stockings become sexual, enviable and suspicious. Most of the characters are artists who have been acquainted with each other in a painting class and whose lives have been a tangle of marriage, adultery, incest and disillusionment.

The main character, Elinor, has been drifting apart from her husband Paul since she saw him kissing a younger woman. Elinor’s duties as an air raid warden put her in close proximity with an old admirer, an artist turned art critic. Kenneth Clark and the War Time Artists Advisory council choose to honor some artists, filling the others with a mixture of scorn and envy.

This period has been called Britain’s finest hour. The courage and perseverance come through here, but the characters still have their personal affairs and secrets dating back to the earlier entries in the series. It might be advisable to read the first two before opening this one.