Feb 29, NY Times

With her new novel, “Life Class,” Pat Barker returns to the subject of World War I — a subject that earned her immense acclaim in the 1990s with her “Regeneration” trilogy (“Regeneration,” “The Eye in the Door” and “The Ghost Road”), an artful improvisation on the lives of the poets Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, Robert Graves and their compatriots, which unfurled into a fierce meditation on the horrors of war and its psychological aftermath.

After several intriguing but lumpy novels set in the present or near-present, it becomes clear to the reader that World War I resonates with Ms. Barker with special force, for “Life Class” possesses the organic power and narrative sweep that her recent books with more contemporary settings lack.

Perhaps it’s that Ms. Barker’s tactile ability to conjure the fetid horror of the trenches and the field hospitals has little applicable use in describing daily life in modern-day Britain. Perhaps it’s that her narrative abilities are spurred by the sort of galvanic changes ushered in by the Great War — a social and cultural earthquake that helped midwife an era of modernism and irony and doubt.

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photo by Lars Klove for The New York Times