The Voyage Out Book Group meets a 5pm on the last Sunday of every month at BookPeople in Austin. We will be meeting on April 28th to discuss Pat Barker’s Life Class. This is an open group, and all are welcome. Come by, we’d love to meet you.
Here we are again, a week out from the meeting. I’m almost done with the book, and I’ve started to think less about my reaction to the novel, and more about what your reactions may be. This guessing game is a monthly treat.
One thing that I’ve been thinking about is the group’s interaction with genre. Those little categories we like to put books into for marketing purposes. Lonesome Dove is a Western, Handmaid’s Tail is dystopian, and The Sound and the Fury is Southern Gothic. We call things Post Modern, Feminist, Experimental, and, of course, Historical. Although I see the silliness of genre placement, I am still drawn to the concept of categories. I like putting things in boxes, not because they fit, but because when you try to place them inside, you see the parts that don’t fit. Those parts that don’t fit are where the energy is. Those are the parts that drive conversations.
Pat Barker’s Life Class has is a war novel, isn’t it? Maybe. The war is certaintly there. There isn’t a part of the book doesn’t feel the weight of WWI. None of the book can be properly contextualized without thinking about what has, or is about to happen.
This begs the question, how much do we need to know about WWI to understand this novel? This is a question we’ve argued in the past. Would Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita be better under more historical scrutiny? Can we ever really understand S’s struggle without the historical background from the Balkan wars of the 90’s? Drakulic, by the way, chooses not to provide an overview.
Can we understand a WWI novel without understanding WWI?
I say, yes. But, it doesn’t hurt to got the other way, either. We can inform our reading with history and not be hurt. This background reading is also fun. I’ve linked to some websites that may help you contextualize this wonderful novel in history.
I can’t wait to see everyone this weekend.