Tina Jordan
February 08, 2008 AT 05:00 AM EST

Paul Tarrant, a student at London’s Slade School of Fine Art, falls for classmate Elinor, who first catches his eye in a life-drawing class, but she turns to a successful young painter instead. Still, Paul cannot get her out of his mind, and when WWI breaks out, the two finally reach for one another. Their bliss is short-lived: Paul volunteers for the Belgian Red Cross as a medic. In Life Class, Pat Barker’s grim, gray depiction of the hospital at the front, and of the ghastliness of combat, approaches her finest writing, elegant and sweeping. For my money, she is the best English novelist working today. A

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