Arthur & George

by Julian Barnes

Hardcover, 2006




New York : Knopf, 2006.


Arthur & George is based on the true story of two men. One is Arthur Conan Doyle, the other is George Edalji, a solicitor from Birmingham. Their nineteenth-century lives are worlds and miles apart, until a series of shocking events brings them together. In dubious circumstances, George is found guilty of harming animals and is sentenced to seven years' penal servitude, a future of ignominious obscurity. However, when Arthur, who is now one of the most famous men in the land as creator of Sherlock Holmes, hears of this racist miscarriage of justice he decides to clear George's name. Told against the backdrop of Arthur's family life, his own passionate affair with the woman who was to become the second Lady Conan Doyle and his wife's lengthy battle with TB, this extraordinary novel is a dazzling exercise in detection.… (more)

Media reviews

Barnes’s suave, elegant prose — alive here with precision, irony and humaneness — has never been used better than in this extraordinary true-life tale, which is as terrifically told as any by its hero Conan Doyle himself.
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For all the numerous retellings of Conan Doyle's life, it is hard to imagine that Barnes's semi-fictional version could be bettered in texture or acuity. In his elegant mini-chapters, he unpacks the writer's extraordinary rites of passage: his famous failure as an ophthalmologist; his work on a
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whaling ship; his sporting prowess - batting for the MCC, skiing Alpine passes; his heroism in the Boer War.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member cameling
Historical fiction about lives of the renown Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and a lesser known individual, solicitor George Edalji. One was the son of a strong mother who drove in him a deep sense of family history, honor and chivalry. The other was the son of a pastor who instilled in him a strong rooting
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in religion and what it means to be an Englishman....despite his mixed heritage.
One goes on to study medicine and become a world famous writer, but loves a woman not his wife. The other, on his way to becoming a solicitor, becomes the victim of increasingly nasty anonymous letters and a suspect in the vicious maiming of farm animals. In an act of desperation to clear his name and restore his rightful place in his profession, George seeks our Arthur and presents him with his case, and this intersection of their paths result in changes in both their lives.

The book contains excerpts from letters and newspaper articles and Julian Barnes weaves these smoothly into his fictionalized take on the the personal experiences of both these men. Apart from the rich story, what's incredible is the degree to which he exposes the inner strength that exists in some people even in the face of unbearably unfair treachery, where they draw their strength from, how love can fuel a person to greatness, and how a person's integrity can slide because of an enormous desire for something beyond his reach, and the false sense of comfort one feels when one lives in denial of the truth.
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LibraryThing member Eat_Read_Knit
A Booker short-listed book that I actually liked. Wonders will never cease.

Arthur, the son of an alcoholic, has a difficult childhood and grows up to become a doctor; George, the son of a vicar, has a different kind of difficult childhood and grows up to become a solicitor. Arthur is torn between
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his duty to his invalid wife and his love for another woman; George is torn between his loyalty to his family and his desire to leave his parents' home and to marry. Arthur ends up doing more writing than doctoring; George ends up being suspected of mutilating farm animals - and it's this pair of circumstances that bring them together. Their acquaintance is short, but it has a profound effect on the lives of both men.

I adored the writing, and the vividness of the characters. The slow revelation of the story and the build-up of layers of characterisation was impressive. The tension was well-sustained and there were some very poignant moments towards the end.

Very highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member Kushana
This is a well-researched and carefully written work of historical fiction posing as literary fiction: both of the protagonists lived -- although this fact is only slowly revealed. (One would be recognized by any reader in the English language, the other perhaps should be just as famous.)

A good
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counterpoint to [Mistress of the Art of Death], another work of historical fiction that points to a related historical milestone (honest.)

However, if this were one of my students' papers I would have written "Get to the point" in the margin. This book can safely be read by skipping the first half (or at least the first third). Starting when the protagonists were small children did not add much to the story. Most of the action (and the plot) are in the last half of the book (unless you like lots of historical detail as atmosphere: some readers do.)

There were also several moments when the author seemed to be showing off how much research he had done; at points I wanted to read the non-fiction book he could have written, instead. As a professional historian I know what good research can and cannot do, but there is no need to put blinking arrows pointing at the minutiae one has dug up. I knew something of one of the protagonist's life, and more about the four religions mentioned (including, as background, the Zoroastrians (or Parsis)) but at several places I felt Mr. Barnes was showing off. (Good research, like [[Mary Renault]]'s does not shout and wave its arms.) I read people showing off their grasp of minutiae all day: this is something that irks me when it appears in my time off.

That said, if you like Victoriana; if you are interested in the history of minorities (and women) in Britain; if you like the history of trains, railroads (or railway law); if you would like to know more about the life of a famous figure; if you want to learn about the history of the British legal system (less dull than it sounds); or if you would like to try guessing at who the two protagonists are then I would recommend this long and carefully thought-out telling of a piece of history.

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LibraryThing member lauralkeet
This book was a Booker Prize finalist, and a 2006 New York Times Notable Book, so what took me so long to read it? It kept calling to me everytime I visited a bookstore, and after a while I finally gave in and bought it in a "3 for 2" sale at Borders. Even then it took a while to reach the top of
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my TBR pile, but I can say I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Arthur and George is the story of two men from very different backgrounds, whose lives become entwined in a most unusual way. Arthur is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries. George Edalji is a solicitor who is wrongly imprisoned for crimes committed in his village. The characters are first introduced as boys. Arthur is the son of an alcoholic father, who is largely absent. His mother figures prominently in his life, and Arthur seemingly wants for nothing. George, the son of a vicar, grows up in a repressive environment with virtually no friends. Arthur moves through education and military service with ease, marries, and joins London society. George struggles to establish himself as a solicitor in Birmingham, while continuing to live with his parents. George begins to receive anonymous, threatening letters, and at the same time village livestock are being brutally murdered in the middle of the night. George is accused and convicted of these crimes, and serves a 3-year prison sentence. Meanwhile, Arthur leads a prosperous life, although his wife has become an invalid and his true love waits patiently for the inevitable to occur.

Arthur and George do not meet until more than halfway through the book, when Arthur becomes interested in George's case, and begins to investigate what really happened. While initially a character study, at this point the book begins to read more like a detective novel, and I was unable to put it down. Barnes held my interest throughout this book with his deft turns of phrase (my favorite: "They squelched through the consequences of a herd of cows..."), and his use of authentic letters and newspaper accounts from the period. Highly recommended!
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LibraryThing member baswood
I find Julian Barnes a clever thoughtful writer who can adapt to various writing styles. Of the four books I have read by him my favourite has been Flaubert's Parrot where Barnes' love for things French and his well researched background on the life of Gustave Flaubert shone through. Arthur and
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George is in a similar vein to his Flaubert book in that it takes as its basis an historical event involving a famous author: in this case Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and fleshes out the story by imagining the thoughts and actions of the characters involved. The author adds his own perspective to the events and so the reader is treated to his informed views of his subjects and these must ring true for an enjoyment of the book. It all worked pretty well for me.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle famously took up the case of George Edalji, who had written to him claiming he was the victim of a gross miscarriage of justice. George had been convicted of maiming animals in and around the village of Wyrley in Staffordshire. He had been sentenced to 7 years penal servitude, but had been released after serving three years. George was a working solicitor and the son of the local vicar, he was of Indian descent and being a shy man kept himself to himself. He seemed to have a watertight alibi for the charge in question and much of the evidence against him was circumstantial. This is the only known case where Sir Arthur used his skills as a writer of detective fiction to research and re-investigate an actual criminal offence.

Julian Barnes introduces his two main subjects by providing a biography of each in alternate short passages. The reader has to wait for well over half the book for the first meeting between the two. Barnes by this time has fixed the contrasting characters firmly in his readers mind. The rich, successful, gentleman adventurer that is Conan Doyle and the slightly repressed unambitious solicitor scraping a living in the Midlands that is George. Two men who have little in common socially, but come together, because one of them writes to the other and finds a recipient whose interest and humanity is piqued by an injustice. The reader is well aware of the events in George's life by this time, especially the circumstances that have led to his conviction. Barnes takes the readers through George's trial almost point by point. If the aim of this passage is to stir up in the reader a sense of injustice, then the amount of detail used tended to numb the effect for me. The writing is prosaic and this would be my main criticism of the novel, Barnes is so intent on explaining why things happened he does not always spark emotion in the reader. It is if he is writing a Victorian Detective novel.

Arthur and George held my interest, but only just. I felt that the novel was overlong and there was too much detail. Perhaps because he had chosen such an unemotional character in George this was necessary and because Conan Doyle strove to uphold gentlemanly values at all times this made both his characters; too one dimensional. I found myself yearning for something to shake these people out of the ruts that had been chosen for them, however as this novel is based on historical facts this was not going to happen. I found myself wondering if these events warranted such a biographical approach and so 3.5 stars.
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LibraryThing member tobiejonzarelli
Arthur & George is an masterful novel based on the true story of two fascinating people and actual events that occurred in Britan. It is hard to describe this book without being a plot spoiler! Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes investigates a criminal case, that appears to be a
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gross miscarriage of justice, centering around George Edalji. George is the somewhat naive son of a Parsee vicar of a small English church and a Scottish mother. George has no friends, he is shy, quiet and reserved, and is quite a study in contrast to the ever popular Arthur. Barnes unveils the history of these two characters in short staccato bursts, revealing each character's boyhood, development and eventual occupation, until finally their lives overlap. It is not only a story of victimization, it is a story of love, loss and what it means to be different - even if you don't believe you are - in an often cruel world. Surprisingly, it was George I admired more, when all was said and done. His quiet stoicism is often the metal which gets us all through life. Arthur & George is a great read, although the beginning chapters were making me slightly dizzy from the machine gun pace of developing their characters, eventually it slows down and becomes so engrossing that you have to continue to turn each page. I highly recommend it. It was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Julian Barnes is a great storyteller, I will be adding his other works to my wishlist.
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LibraryThing member lizchris
This is a tale of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and George Edalji, a rather dull Midlands solicitor who goes to prison because of a miscarriage of justice. Arthur uses his celebrity to push for a review of the case, George gets a pardon, but no compensation.

The story builds up the 2 contrasting
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characters subtly and eloquently; the author seems more interested in George.
Arthur comes across as a man of action and impulse, but perhaps lacking self-knowledge. George is quiet and introspective, but the strongest character in the book.

My only criticism is that the book also tries to cover Conan Doyle's spritualism, I found the final section about the mass seance in the Albert Hall after Conan Doyle's death far less interesting than the rest of the book.
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LibraryThing member Castlelass
Historical fiction inspired by real events in the early 20th century in England. George is a solicitor living in the rural town of Great Wyrley near Birmingham. He is accused of mutilating horses and other farm animals. Arthur is convinced of his innocence and gets involved in the case.

The plot
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revolves around the mysterious mutilations, though I would call this book more character driven. Barnes provides a satisfying portrait of two contrasting personalities. George is cautious, introspective, and quiet while Arthur is flamboyant, assertive, and outspoken. The writing is elegant, and the narrative is compelling. I found myself drawn along by the mystery element, while also wanting to learn more about the people, history, and culture of the time period.

The two main characters are similar in their application of logic. Arthur applies logic in the manner of a detective in attempting to break a case. George, as a student of law, employs an analytical approach to his situation, trying to remove as much emotion as possible. Each sees something the other cannot. For example, Arthur is aware that racial prejudice has played a role in George’s accusation and George sees that Arthur has come up with an alternate suspect using a great deal of circumstantial evidence.

I frequently read historical fiction based on real people, and this book is a masterful example of the way convey a feeling of authenticity. Barnes convinces me he has a grasp on the personalities of these people, as they try to navigate the complexities of their lives. This book provides a satisfying blend of plot, character, flow, originality, and style. I enjoyed it immensely.
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LibraryThing member Stevil2001
Arthur & George intertwines the stories of two historical figures: Arthur Conan Doyle, who you all know, and George Edalji, who you all should. As George becomes the victim of a ruthless smear campaign (and worse) while he struggles to make it as an Edinburgh solicitor (also publishing an excellent
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little book on railway law for the educated man on the train), Arthur marries his wife, invents Sherlock Holmes, and embarks on an affair. Barnes is adept, and I was drawn in almost instataneously: both characters come alive, but especially George. I think mostly because so many bad things happen to him, really allowing us to see his character from every possible angle. Arthur's not quite so fully fleshed out, but despite the title it's really George's novel, so that's okay.

I like well-written, literary novels, and I like well-plotted, gripping novels. But (if I'm going to make a wide and probably inaccurate generalization) it's rare that a novel has both characteristics. Arthur & George knocks it out of the park on both pitches. As I said, both leads are strongly characterized, and Barnes is simply marvelous to read as a writer; his prose is very strong and very insightful. But at the same time, I was very nearly always on the edge of my seat, wanting to know what happened next, especially during the trial sequences. It's a detective novel in some ways, but it's a detective novel that has something to say about how we look for truth and how we hold up in the face of it. Absolutely fantastic, I was hooked all the way through, and I can't recommend it enough. The best book I've read in ages.
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LibraryThing member mattcompton
When Dr. Watson first meets Sherlock Holmes, he isn't well. He has returned from the war in Afghanistan, arm still stiff from a bullet wound. He is living in a hotel, spending beyond his means, and only chances upon the soon-to-be famous detective because each is in need of a roommate to make the
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London rent affordable. Watson tells the reader, "As the weeks went by, my interest in him and my curiosity as to his aims in life gradually deepened and increased." That interest and curiosity gradually become the stuff which pulls Watson out of his melancholy and into one of the greatest literary friendships in history.

In Julian Barnes' new novel, Arthur & George, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is coping with similar feelings when he stumbles upon the case of George Edalji. Edalji is the son of a Parsee father and a soft-spoken Scottish mother. His father is a clergyman in the Church of England and he has lived his entire life in the vicarage. His entire life that is, except for the last three years, which he has spent in jail, for a crime he did not commit. And, as with the Dreyfus Affair across the English Channel, race has much to do with the conviction. Before the trial, Edalji was a solicitor, but because he is released from prison without a pardon, he can no longer practice law. The only thing that Edalji wants from his government is the chance to return to his chosen profession.

By this time, Doyle is famous. He has created Holmes, killed him, then brought the detective back to life. He has built a fortune, traveled the world, fought for his country, and been awarded a peerage for his efforts. He has also married a woman he does not love and fallen for one he does. He has managed to reconcile these two relationships in a way that does no damage to either woman's honor. Then, after many years as an invalid, Doyle's wife dies. And everything changes. Doyle, the consummate man of action, is struck by an inability to do much of anything. Until he receives a letter from Edalji. And then, like Watson so many years before, his interest and curiosity came back to life.

Days later, they meet, and as Barnes tells it, "They had stood to say good-bye, and Sir Arthur had towered over him, and this large, forceful, gentle man had looked him in the eye and said, 'I do not think you are innocent. I do not believe you are innocent. I know you are innocent.' The words were more than a poem, more than a prayer, they were the expression of a truth against which lies would break."

Of course, Doyle throws himself into action, and with his clerk playing the role of Watson to his Holmes, the writer succeeds, not only dismantling the case against Edalji but also in tabbing the actual perpetrator of the crimes. He also succeeds in making a lot of noise, both in the media and in the halls of government. And for his efforts, Doyle gets a national debate, Edalji gets a pardon, and the British get an appellate court.

Though there is always plenty of action, Arthur & George is slow to unfold. It takes a full third of the book for the narrative to truly take root in the reader's imagination. The story doesn't drag per se, but it doesn't become truly gripping until Edalji is released from jail and Doyle's first wife dies. Once we reach that point, however, then the game is afoot. Chapters breeze by as Doyle begins his detective work, and then, all too soon, the book reaches a close.

Barnes is a talented writer, but there can be no doubt that he is at his best when he is writing about identity. English identity in particular. And in Arthur Conan Doyle and in George Edalji he has a complex pair of foils which he can use to poke at the topic. In George, he has a character who so admires his country and the image that it projects that he refuses to blame race for all his troubles. And in Arthur, he has a man who calls himself one of the "unofficial English" but lacks the capacity to be anything but. Between them, Barnes manages to develop a highly convincing portrayal of life, of both insiders and outcasts.
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LibraryThing member vegetrendian
My first introduction to Julian Barnes was the vastly different, yet also compelling, “The History of the World in 10½ Chapters”. Though I quite enjoyed it (gave it four stars on this site), I never quite got around to reading anything else in his respectably large body of works. But this
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summer while holidaying in Europe (a turn of phrase intended to trick you into believing that I this is something I do often) I had the opportunity to find an autographed copy of Arthur & George and combined it in a 3/20₤ (or something along those lines) at Hatchard’s, London’s oldest bookstore (for the curious I matched it with Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell – also signed- and Ali Smith’s The Accidental). I am a sucker for autographed books, and also for the Booker prize (the astute among you may have noticed that all three of those books were shortlisted –though none won- in recent years) and so the universe was clearly aligning to push me back towards Julian Barnes (also the British trade paperback is a beautiful specimen, a wonderful, understated design). I should also add that I did have some mild trepidation with the book. I am a fan of current, modern fiction, and that fandom also entails books set in the contemporary world, I am not a fan of the period piece, or (generally) historical novels (which may explain the dearth of classics in my library –in both electronic and paper forms). I knew that it was set at the turn of the 20th century, and that it was based on real events, and that the Arthur found in the title referred to the author of the Sherlock Holmes books, none of which I had, at the time, read. So I was hesitant. But the reviews were so overwhelmingly positive, I had enjoyed History of the World, and my faith in the Booker is so strong (particularly the shortlist, I have a woefully poor track record in both predicting and agreeing with the Booker judges on their ultimate selections in recent years). That all these elements together were enough for me to crack its spine (though I am anal enough that this is merely figurative, I do my best to keep the spines in pristine shape). And from the very minute that I, carefully, opened it, I was hooked. The writing is sparse and neat, and clean. It is extremely smooth, and he does an incredible job of letting the story tell itself. Normally it is the writing much less than the plot itself that endears me to a book, and this book was only slightly different in that it was the specific, spare, and fluid language that gave the story such wonderful room to grow. It is an interesting story, and Barnes does a spectacular job of endearing us to the characters while still providing us a realistic picture of two historical figures that includes their shortcomings and eccentricities (of which both have many). I have no hesitation recommending this book to almost anyone, for though it has a specific time and place it is a universal story, and the writing is so good that it is not merely a story about a fight for justice, or a portrait of a famous writer (though it does an excellent job of both of those, keeping in mind that this is not simply a Conan Doyle biography). This is an excellent book and (taking nothing away from John Banville) was certainly Booker worthy. I am having a hard time coming up with more ways to say it (my fault not the book, or author’s) but it is excellent, I can only hope that the rest of Barnes’ work is half as good, as I will definitely be going back to visit some of his older books in search of even a hint of this same brilliance.
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LibraryThing member BobNolin
The first third of the book reads just like a biography. It's dry, bloodless, and should have stayed just as a historical, like "Devil in the White City." It's certainly not much as a novel. I really had no feeling for Doyle, what he was like, and no idea how he just--out of the blue--invented
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forensic detective stories. He was a doctor, Jim, not a writer! How'd he do that? Barnes takes a page or two to get him from nobody to famous. The actual story of his rise is probably really interesting, I bet. You won't find it here, though. And George is not a sympathetic character at all. Very hard to like. Perhaps, as an American, I'm missing the cultural background that is engrained into the British psyche. I have this sort of problem with other Bookers, too. I tend to steer clear of them now. Got about a third of the way through and lost interest.
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LibraryThing member karl.steel
Since I find all spiritualism either risible or of only historical interest, Barnes' attention to Doyle's spiritualist fervor transformed my affectionate interest for Doyle into disgust and impatience. But while watching yet another 'Christmas Carol' this holiday--since this is what one does with
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the in-laws--I realized the weirdness of early twentieth century English spiritualism loosened the syrupy anglophilic nostalgia of the holiday. It wasn't all carols and parlor games, unless you want to work seances and hymns into your Dyker Heights lawn display.

George I had less trouble with: Thanks Barnes for George Edalji, and the generosity and decency of working through race and colonialism and splittings of colonized subjects. The sexlessness of George and his family, however, struck me as a bit Mr. Miyagi-y.
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LibraryThing member TheAmpersand
The Arthur and George referred to in the title are Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, and George Eldaji, a lawyer who was falsely imprisoned for mutilating cattle and sending threatening letters whose erroneous conviction spurred the establishment of a court of appeals. Barnes sets
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up two parallel plotlines here. In the first, Arthur stages a public campaign to have the innocent George pardoned and compensated; in the second, he falls in love with his second wife, Jean, while his first wife, Louise, is dying from consumption. This difficult situation forces Arthur and Jean to conduct a secret, chaste romance that lasts over a decade. This twin structure turns out to be a terrific idea. It allows Barnes to depict the inflexibility of Victorian sexual mores without losing those readers who consider novels that focus solely on love affairs narrow and boring. In this book, Arthur is forced to inhabit the role of public intellectual and covert lover simultaneously, and we, therefore, end up with a remarkably complete portrait of him. Conan Doyle is known to most contemporary readers only as the creator of a certain detective, but Barnes makes the case that he led a fairly interesting life outside of Holmes and Watson. He was, in addition to being a world-famous writer, a sportsman, doctor, war veteran and public campaigner. One marvels at how he found the time for it all.

Barnes has chosen an interesting bit of history to resurrect here, and while my copy of "Arthur and George" did not contain a bibliography, but it's obvious that he did a great deal of research as he wrote this novel. His descriptions of period domestic and professional life are minutely detailed and ring true throughout. To his credit, he also resists the temptation to view the past through the eyes of the present. He doesn't even employ a modern narrator as an intermediary, as John Fowles did in his own exercise in careful historical reconstruction, "The French Lieutenant's Woman." Barnes's characters are, for better or for worse, very much inhabitants of the Victorian age, and the author makes no apologies for their interests and attitudes. We get an unedited look at Conan Doyle's infatuation with spiritualism, his concern for public order, his typically Victorian industriousness. George, on the other hand, lives a quiet, contained life defined by his family obligations. Like in many novels of the Victorian era, the most affecting moments of "Arthur and George" occur when their preternaturally reserved characters strain against the social framework that defines their lives.

Sometimes, though, this isn't quite enough. While I realize that "Arthur and George" is a successful book, there's something about it that keeps me from loving it. It might be Barnes's language, which is more formal and straitlaced than the diction he employed in, for example, "Talking it Over." This shift in tone might accurately reflect his character's own mindsets, but it also made it hard for me to feel genuine affection for either title character. George, in particular, is so drearily conventional that it's hard to say we know him at all, even after reading five hundred pages about him. "Arthur and George" is a fine, well-written example of faux-Victoriana, a novel I can admire I can recommend even if I can't quite bring bring myself to enthuse about it.
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LibraryThing member lyzadanger
A random pick from my shelf dropped me in the English West Midlands at the turn of the 19th century. A mystery based on real events set during the senescence of Victorian ideals, starring the real human Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, "Arthur & George" combines literary suspense with the themes of slowly
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declining empire. It explores what it means to be English at a time when what it means to be English is changing faster than it has ever done so before; it glances at the accelerating evolution of change in the time of full-steam-ahead Edwardian idealism. No longer is it exactly all right for a gentleman to express bald racism, instead a more insidious cousin allows for unfounded parlor and cigar chats, couched in pseudo-science, about the biological reason for Parsi 'blood lust.'

This is important, because George, our much-suffering protagonist, is the son of a Parsi vicar and his Scottish wife. Successful, but unremarkable and socially stunted Birmingham lawyer George Edalji is accused of bizarre and gruesome crimes against livestock in what seems, at best, a farcical miscarriage of police investigation. Outrage upon outrage ensues. Injustice reigns. The identity of the true perpetrator remains elusive and provides a mysterious background tension.

Doyle steps in and intertwines his own slightly-fictionalized biography with Edalji's. The novel shifts gears from a frenetic charge of clues and evidence to one more introspective. We learn of Doyle's complexes and conflicts. It is here that Barnes loses a bit of steam. While the reader champs at the bit to learn more about George and what really happened to George, we are instead derailed (to use a pervasive railroad symbolism in the book) into a yearning, self-exploratory quietness.

This, while arguably more literary, is a disappointment. Tensions are ultimately resolved and it feels like the question that was, overall, asked, is left as an exercise for the reader.
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LibraryThing member Dorritt
I enjoyed this book on a variety of levels: as a historic recreation of an obscure but interesting historical incident; as a biography of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the legendary author/creator of Sherlock Holmes; but also a thoughtful exploration of an enduring literary mystery: how Doyle, a man so
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dedicated to logic and scientific reasoning, could, in later years, have become infatuated with so infamous a pseudo-science as spiritualism.

As a historic novel/recreation, this is a worthy and highly readable effort. Barnes evokes, with seeming effortlessness, a sure and convincing sense of period: not just the "props" - the clothes , the manners - but the ways in which Victorians viewed the world, their role in the world, and themselves. Barnes is especially strong when recounting the role that circumstance, prejudice, ignorance and pride play in ensnaring Eydalji. These chapters - full of mounting suspense and menace - are among the best in the book and made me miss more than one meal. Moreover, Barnes uses the vehicle of the murder mystery as a chance to explore larger themes such as prejudice (conscious and unconscious), human resiliency, and the evolution of the English justice system

The story also works as an incomplete but intriguing bio of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, exploring the role that his absentee artist father, his Scottish mother, and his "traditional" British upbringing shaped him into the man that he became, a simultaneous embodiment of the past (ex: his chivalric but rather clueless attitude towards women), the present (ex: he was an avid sportsman, numbered among his acquaintances most of the notable men of the period, and even dabbled in politics), and the future (ex: his Sherlock Holmes stories famously foreshadowed the use of forensic evidence to solve crimes). But make no mistake: this is no homage. Barnes' Doyle may be clever, accomplished, and driven by a sense of honor, but he is also crippled by intellectual vanity.

However, I believe Barnes' primary goal (and greatest achievement) is his exploration of how a man as rational as Doyle - not just the creator of Sherlock Holmes, but a trained medical doctor - can have developed so deep and (seemingly) irrational a fascination with spiritualism. How could the man who gave birth to Sherlock Holmes have believed in ectoplasm, telepathy, mesmerism, ouija boards, spirit writing, and (perhaps most famously) fairies? Barnes' depicts Doyle as a man so tormented by rational doubts about organized religion, he finds himself seduced by spiritualism and its promise of providing scientifically verifiable evidence of an afterlife. Alas, however, Doyle's intellectual vanity prevents him not only from identifying the real culprit behind the crimes of which Eydalji is accused, but also prevents him from being able to rationally debunk the spiritualists who successfully manipulate him into believing what he wishes to believe.

Which eventually leads the reader back to the major theme of this story: that people will find a way to believe what they want to believe, no matter how irrational the conclusion. The way a normally "just" justice system came to believe Eydalji guilty of murder. The way Doyle convinces himself that he can love two women without compromising his honor. The way humans continue to believe that the spirits of their beloved dead still walk among us, just waiting for us to find a way to communicate with them.
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LibraryThing member primalprayer
The writing is excellent. This book is about two men in England at the turn of the 20th century. On several occasions I was surprised by how easily the author becomes the character and in turn the reader sees the events no throught the authors' perspective, but those of the characters'. This is
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taken on by nearly all authors, but in this narrative I am so convinved of the characters that I forget I am reading a book. This has never been done so well. Towards the end the story was losing me as it turned into a light, comic mystery, but we were back on track by the end. A great story to tell and well-told to boot.
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LibraryThing member breeks
A great read! The intertwining of the two lives was very ably put together by Barnes. An historical novel that had real life to it.
LibraryThing member writestuff
Julian Barnes has crafted an imaginative, compellingly readable 'whodunnit' that keeps the reader compulsively turning the pages.

Based on the life and work of Sir Arthur Conan Boyle, it is a tale of two men - George and Arthur - who seem to be living worlds apart, but whose paths cross when a
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mystery surfaces. The novel explores larger themes of racism and morality, but is driven by excellent story telling and Barnes' gift of creating character.

I read this for a book club read and also because it was listed as a 2006 New York Times Notable. I am happy I picked it up. If you enjoy evocative novels which spin a good yarn, you will love this book.

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LibraryThing member wyvernfriend
In a blend of history and fiction, Arthur Conan Doyle and George end up being involved in each other's lives through George's wrongful conviction for animal mutilation. This brings about the court of criminal appeal. Interesting but someties a bit overdone.
LibraryThing member jennyo
I thoroughly enjoyed Julian Barnes's fictional account of the relationship between Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and George Edalji. Since I knew nothing about the Edalji case to begin with, I got caught up in the plot and found myself inhaling pages in order to find out what was going to happen to
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I like Barnes's straightforward, clear writing and his ability to turn a clever phrase. I knew from the very first paragraphs of the book that I'd enjoy it. It begins like this:

A child wants to see. It always begins like this, and it began like this then. A child wanted to see.
He was able to walk, and could reach up to a door handle. He did this with nothing that could be called a purpose, merely the instinctive tourism of infancy.

I love that bit; the instinctive tourism of infancy. I also loved this bit at the end where Edalji attends the spiritualist's presentation in honor of ACD, and the spirits seem to all be speaking at once:

George listens to the crowd of spirits being given fleeting description. The impression is that they are all clamoring for attention, fighting to convey their messages. A facetious if logical question comes into George's mind, from where he cannot tell, unless as a reaction to all this unwonted intensity. If these are indeed the spirits of Englishmen and Englishwomen who have passed over into the next world, surely they would know how to form a proper queue?

All in all, an entertaining book and one I'd highly recommend.
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LibraryThing member mjiko
I found this book really interesting, particularly the experiences of an Anglo-Indian in Victorian England (partly because this is my own family background).
However, I found the writing style a bit hard to take at times, and was particularly irritated by the sustained use of the present tense.
LibraryThing member ShelfMonkey
What are a writer’s responsibilities? In a famous aphorism by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Homes, they are “firstly, to be intelligible, secondly, to be interesting, and thirdly, to be clever.�€?

English author Julian Barnes has taken Doyle’s exacting criteria to
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heart. Twice nominated for the Booker Prize for his novels Flaubert’s Parrot and England, England, Barnes has delivered a passel of ferociously clever works, intensely literate stories that mingle satire with sometimes raucous humour.

Now, melding his sensibilities with those of Doyle, Barnes draws upon copious historical resources to reenact a fascinating episode in Sir Arthur’s life: the Edalji Case. Documenting one of the few times when the mystery writer employed his celebrity to an actual crime, Arthur & George delivers an engrossing true-life Victorian mystery story that, in a time of racial profiling and increased fear of the outsider, still has unfortunate relevance.

George Edalji is an English solicitor, a man who fervently believes “that he is English, he is a student of the laws of England, and one day, God willing, he will marry according to the rites and ceremonies of the Church of England,â€? However, George’s father is Indian, a Parsee, and as such, George is constantly judged as being different.

In an occasion of monstrous discrimination, Edalji is convicted of horrific crimes on absurdly thin evidence, and sentenced to seven years in prison. Doyle, wielding the skills of his fictional detective, takes up George’s cause, eventually uncovering precisely how English police decided that “a respectable lawyer, bat-blind and of slight physique, [became] a degenerate who flits across fields at dead of night, evading the watch of twenty special constables, in order to wade through the blood of mutilated animals.â€?

While the mystery is a fascinating one, far more realistic than those of Holmes, Arthur & George truly functions as a meticulous literary duet between two men, outwardly dissimilar, yet each possessing qualities that make them, in Doyle’s words, “unofficial Englishmen.â€?

George is almost the stereotypical Englishman, armed with a placid demeanour and firm belief in the rule of law, yet his skin marks him as someone of differing values, and therefore must be feared. Arthur, by way of contrast, is thought of as the ultimate Englishman, yet his bombastic attitude, Scottish heritage, and unwavering belief in spiritualism set him far apart from his countrymen.

Barnes fills his pages with pointed subtext concerning governmental whitewash techniques and racial profiling, but they are subtle barbs, piercing the skin ever so slightly. Like his earlier novels, especially the rambunctiously funny The History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters, Barnes never lets a diatribe get in the way of a good story.

And Arthur & George is indeed a good, good story, intelligent, interesting, and complex. While the reticent George ultimately decides that “there are worse fates . . . than to be a footnote in legal history,â€? Barnes has no such reluctance. In Arthur & George, he has brought about a graceful re-imagining of a forgotten event, in a manner that would do Sir Arthur proud.
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LibraryThing member sas
After a few misfires Barnes is back on top form with a novel that manages to be a detective novel, historical fiction, miscarriage of justice investigation and biography, succeeding magnificently at them all.
LibraryThing member wendyrey
As close to a documentary/mockumentary/dramatisation as a novel can get. Very readable story of two real men Arthur Conan Doyle and a solicitor who was accused and convicted of crimes he did not commit.
Much better than it sounds.



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