There were five years between the publication of Life Class and Toby’s Room, primarily because Barker spent two years caring for her husband before his death in 2009. It has been, she says, with characteristic understatedness, “a very much bombarded trilogy”. Given the relationship between Toby and Elinor (the title Toby’s Room, as Hermione Lee pointed out when she reviewed it, echoes Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room, also a memorial to a dead brother), the trilogy would always have been suffused with grief; but Barker agrees that her own bereavement gave it an extra dimension.
“You use the experiences you have. It wasn’t the first grief in my life; it was the deepest so far – let’s hope nothing else awaits,” she says. “I find the whole stages of grief thing quite interesting, because nobody talks about stages of falling in love, for example, or things like that, and I think it’s a way of people distancing themselves, taming the experience, which is actually an experience that can’t be tamed. It’s one of these things that strips the flesh off your bones, and that is the truth about it. There aren’t any neat stages, and there is nothing that can be identified as recovery, either, although obviously you learn to live with it, and through it, and differently because of it. But certainly, as soon as people talk about recovery, I just think, ‘Ah, it hasn’t happened to you yet.’”