Here’s a book I have read about several times recently, but I actually saw for the first time at a bookstore over the weekend: Arthur & George by Julian Barnes. According to my Book Lovers’ Calendar:
Arthur & George is a beautifully structured story that interweaves the lives of Arthur (Conan Doyle) and George (Edalji). The Victorian setting teems with issues of class, morality, friendship and love. Chapter by chapter, Arthur and George merge and emerge. What you need to know comes along in its own good time, while you become completely hooked into this story of the world’s most renowned writer of detective fiction and an unknown Staffordshire solicitor accused of heinous crimes. Why and how Sir Arthur Conan Doyle proves George Edalji’s innocent is Julian Barnes’s brilliant achievement, a marvelous fiction based on a true and historically significant story.
Beneath the appearance of a straightforward historical novel, Barnes develops a double-helix, alternating the storyline between his main narrators, before showing how these two disparate, and desperate, outsiders come to each other’s rescue… More to the point, Barnes’s artistry underscores that these two proper gentlemen are both, in fact, victimized by the systems they admire most — the law and chivalry. Together, they are nonetheless able to redeem lives wracked by hopelessness and frustration.
Barnes’s writing is, as usual, masterly throughout Arthur & George, not only as the pages shift from one man’s consciousness to the other’s but also in the way their author keeps the reader on edge. Facts are interpreted, then reinterpreted; the bigoted speak convincingly; nothing turns out quite as expected; and even the book’s coda delivers a final shock.
The Bookdork blog is not as glowing about the book:
The first Barnes book I’ve read that wasn’t a total slam-dunk, though it did win me over, eventually. I liked the dramatization of historical events, the weird quirks of the two main characters’ lives, and the deft juxtaposition of two major narratives. The actual story just failed to grab me by the throat, that’s all, and Barnes is at his best with contemporary characters who express themselves verbally – Arthur and George are both on the inarticulate/stiff side.
If any of you have read this book, please weigh in. I’d love to know what you thought.