Arthur & George by Julian Barnes

Arthur & George, Julian Barnes

Random House Canada, 357 pages

ISBN 0679314172

Sometimes, despite the most conscientious of choices, a life can become derailed.  George, for example, studied hard throughout his childhood, graduated from law school, and found a position in a Birmingham firm.  He was happy in his work, had made his parents proud, and returned each evening to the vicarage in Staffordshire to help his family in whatever way he could.  Then all of a sudden, on the flimsiest of evidence, George was arrested, convicted, and sent to prison.  A legal career in shambles and reputation tarnished, George’s life was over before his thirtieth birthday.

Arthur, too, found himself in the most unexpected of circumstances.  Shortly after graduating from medical school, Arthur fell in love with the sweet, agreeable Louisa Hawkins, who proved to be a wonderfully supportive of all of Arthur’s ambitions.  When their children were still quite young, Louisa fell ill with consumption, which prevented her from living anything but a retiring sort of life.  Arthur, however, was markedly unsuited to quiet living, so Louisa encouraged him to pursue grand adventures on his own.  After a while, Arthur met the vivacious and captivating Jean who readily joined him in everything, and the two became chaste soulmates.  Then Louisa died, and the disloyalty of his emotional affair with Jean paralyzed him to his very core.

George spent three years in prison reviewing his situation and reading the classics.  Convinced that the reinstatement of his right to practice law rested on clearing his good name, George Edalji wrote to the passionate, bombastic Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to take on his real-life case.  Spurred into action by the injustice of George’s predicament, Arthur began to investigate with a fervour that would have pleased even Sherlock Holmes himself.

Based on the events that led to the creation of the Courts of Appeal, Arthur & George is the engrossing story of two very different men fighting for honour in a topsy-turvy world.






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4 Responses to Arthur & George by Julian Barnes

  1. Alex says:

    I love this book but I found it very difficult read. As you mention, it’s based on a real incident. I live very close to where George and his family resided and I couldn’t help but take on a level of personal guilt about what had been done to him. I suspect that says something about the quality of the writing.

    • Naomi says:

      Isn’t Barnes fantastic at the slow reveal? I felt that I got to know the characters so well at the beginning, and couldn’t figure out why George’s family was so disliked – and then Barnes drops the last name, and it all sadly makes sense. It’s a kind of racism that we’re very familiar with here in Southern Ontario, too – no name-calling or prohibitive laws or anything forward like that, but maybe the half-Indian kid isn’t invited to quite as many birthday parties or innocence isn’t assumed if he’s involved in a school prank. I think the book did a great job of showing just how harmful that quiet racism can be.

  2. This sounds like a great book. I am really intrigued. But, I’m worried by what Alex commented above. Is it difficult to read? Is it hard to get into?

    • Naomi says:

      Personally, I didn’t find it a difficult read in terms of the language or structure. George’s family experiences a whole lot of quiet discrimination – not name-calling or prohibitive laws, but a general understanding that this half-Indian family is somehow inferior or deficient. That mindset is insidious, and it ends up causing a great deal of damage. Arthur & George will give you something to think about – it’s about as uncomfortable as To Kill a Mockingbird, but its ending is alot less bleak.

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