Pat Barker Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Patricia Margaret Barker achieved literary prominence when she was awarded the prestigious Booker Prize for The Ghost Road, the last novel in her trilogy of novels about World War I. Before the publication of this highly regarded trilogy, her reputation had been that of a working-class feminist writer. She was born in a small town near Middlesborough in the industrial north of England. Her first three novels, published by feminist publishing house Virago, are all set in the working-class environment in which she had been raised, and they depict women who are struggling socially and economically.

Raised mostly by her grandparents, who ran a fish-and-chip shop, she developed an ear for the kind of authentic dialogue that she used in her early fiction. Unlike her grandmother, mother, and stepsister, however, she did not become a housecleaner. Instead, she moved to London and became a student at the London School of Economics. Moving back to Middlesborough, she took a post as an adult-education teacher and married David Barker, a zoology professor at the University of Durham. Pat Barker began to write fiction seriously when she was in her thirties, after the birth of a son and daughter, and it was after attending a creative-writing course in 1979 and receiving the encouragement of the novelist Angela Carter that she began depicting the lives of working-class women.

Barker’s first novel, Union Street, which drew significantly on her own experiences, is a bleak depiction of working-class domestic life. Her next novel, Blow Your House Down, was inspired by a notorious Yorkshire serial killer and is narrated through the defiant voices of the prostitutes who are his potential victims. The Century’s Daughter is told from the perspective of a working-class woman of about eighty. The novels that first brought Barker recognition, however, are almost exclusively those with male characters. The three works about men suffering from the effects of combat during World War I...

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(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Pat Barker was born in Thornaby-on-Tees in Yorkshire, England, on May 8, 1943. She did not know her father, who was in the military during World War II, and after her mother started a second family when Barker was seven, she was raised by her grandmother and grandfather. Her grandfather, a laborer, was a wounded World War I veteran, and her grandmother worked in a fish-and-chips restaurant. Her grandmother took an interest in spiritualism and encouraged Barker to read from her books, as well as from the encyclopedia and various works of literature. From her grandparents she acquired a love of language and storytelling.

After finishing secondary school for girls, Barker attended the London School of Economics. She received a bachelor of science degree in 1965 and taught history, politics, and English to adult classes until 1970. She also enrolled for study at Durham University. She married David Barker, a professor of zoology, in 1978. They had one son, John, and a daughter, Annabel, who also became a novelist.

Barker’s early unpublished work includes novels of manners about the English middle class. She was resigned to remaining unpublished until she took a writing course from the novelist Angela Carter. Carter encouraged Barker to write about her working-class background and helped her find a publisher for the result: Union Street. Coming out in 1982, the novel was well received by critics, and she was named one of Great Britain’s best young writers by the Book Marketing Council and the literary journal Granta. Granta later placed her on its list of Twenty Best British Novelists. In 2003, Barker was named a Commander of the British Empire.