A real tour de force
from masterful author Julian Barnes is Arthur & George
, which was short-listed for the 2005 Man Booker Prize. Late-Victorian Britain is brought to vivid life in the true story of the intersection of two lives: one an internationally famous author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and the other, an obscure country lawyer, George Edalji, son of a Parsi Midlands vicar and a Scottish mother. They start out very differently. Arthur pursues a career in medicine before he discovers that he is really a writer; George, on his way to becoming a lawyer--near-sighted, timid and friendless--is victimized by locals because he is easy to scapegoat--a half-Indian in lily-white Great Wyrley.
The victimization of George takes the form of nasty letters, the theft of a school key, and finally, the accusation that he has mutilated animals. Meanwhile, Arthur is becoming more and more famous for creating Sherlock Holmes, whom he tries to kill off once and is forced to resurrect because of his fans' outcry. He marries, fathers two children and then, when his wife is invalided by consumption, falls madly in love for the first time with Jean Leckie.
The novel's style is smoothly revelatory. We slowly come to realize that George is half-Indian, that Arthur is the famous Doyle, that the woman he loves, chastely, is not his wife and, sadly, that George will not prevail over the forces ranged against him.
When George, desperate to resume his law career after imprisonment, sends Arthur the sad chronicle of his history, Arthur sees immediately that he could not be guilty and sets out to clear his name. This case of George's lifts Arthur from the slough of despond into which he has sunk after his wife, Touie, dies. He is guilt-ridden, constantly wondering if he was attentive enough, if she could possibly have known about Jean. Realizing the immense injustice George has suffered, he is shaken out of lethargy and, in Holmesian fashion, sets out to solve the case.
Julian Barnes is a gifted writer of enormous accomplishment. This novel is thoroughly engrossing, filled with Barnes's trademark themes of identity and love, longing and loss, and ultimately, an examination of man's inhumanity to man. --Valerie Ryan
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From Publishers Weekly
Arthur is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, physician, sportsman, gentleman par excellence and the inventor of Sherlock Holmes; George is George Edalji, also a real, if less well-known person, whose path crossed not quite fatefully with the famous author's. Edalji was the son of a Parsi father (who was a Shropshire vicar), and a Scots mother. In 1903, George, a solicitor, was accused of writing obscene, threatening letters to his own family and of mutilating cattle in his farm community. He was convicted of criminal behavior in a blatant miscarriage of justice based on racial prejudice. Eventually, Sir Arthur ("Irish by ancestry, Scottish by birth") heard about George's case and began to advocate on his behalf. In this combination psychological novel, detective story and literary thriller, Barnes elegantly dissects early 20th-century English society as he spins this true-life story with subtle and restrained irony. Every line delivered by the many characters—the two principals, their school chums (Barnes sketches their early lives), their families and many incidentals—rings with import. His dramatization of George's trial, in particular, grinds with telling minutiae, and his portrait of Arthur is remarkably rich, even when tackling Doyle's spiritualist side. Shortlisted for the Booker, this novel about love, guilt, identity and honor is a triumph of storytelling, taking the form Barnes perfected in Flaubert's Parrot
(1985) and stretching it yet again.
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