I loved Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy, and this book, set at the beginning of the 1st WW feels like an addition to that canon. The story looks at how people responded to the outbreak of war, and how it changes some lives, unsettled others and didn't seem to affect some people one little jot.
I didn't feel it was quite as well structured as the others. Characters move in and out of focus, as Paul Tarrant, a working-class strudent at the Slade, and Elinor Brooke, an scholarship artist from an upper-middle class background live their lives in detailed moments which give the story a slight 'journal' feel. The war comes quite late into the novel and, unlike some of her other work on this period, never really felt to me like a 'character' in itself, but rather something incidental that was happening to Paul when he volunteers to drive an ambulance at the front. What seemed to be missing from the novel; and what I found most frustrating, are the mentions of Paul and Elinor’s professor, Henry Tonks. This man pioneered developments in plastic surgery by drawing patients pre- and post-operation, after leaving the Slade to go back to medicine at the start of the war. But not a lot of this is covered in the book, and Tonks, like Paul’s first love Teresa, slide out of view. I would have liked more of this, and I would have like a more traditionally conclusive ending, especially as we leave the characters as the war moves into full throttle. Maybe if you haven’t read any of Barker’s 1st WW books yet, you might start with this one, leaving the others to entice you afterwards.