Pat Barker’s new novel begins in the life class at the Slade School of Art in London, where a young artist, Paul Tarrant, is struggling to draw a naked female model to the exacting standards of Henry Tonks, a teacher obsessed by anatomy. It is spring 1914, a few months before the outbreak of the First World War. By the end of the novel, Paul will have become closely acquainted with the bones, nerves and arteries that, as Tonks insists his students remember, animate the smooth surface of the skin.
Paul is able to study at the Slade because his grandmother, a working-class landlady with a talent for rent-collecting, has left him a legacy. When Tonks points out that he appears to have nothing to say, Paul consoles himself by his passion for Teresa, an artist’s model who is being