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Arthur and George (Vintage International)by Julian Barnes
Synopses & Reviews
Brilliantly imagined and irresistibly readable, Arthur & George is a major new novel from Julian Barnes, a wonderful combination of playfulness, pathos and wisdom.
Searching for clues, no one would ever guess that the lives of Arthur and George might intersect. Growing up in shabby-genteel nineteenth-century Edinburgh, Arthur is saddled with a dad who is a disgrace and a mum he wishes to protect, and is propelled into a life of action. To his astonishment, his career as a self-made man of letters brings him riches and fame and, in the world at large, he becomes the perfect picture of the honourable English gentlemen.
George is irredeemably an outsider, and has no hope of becoming such a picture. Though he's dogged and logical, a vicar's son from rural Staffordshire, he is set apart, and he and his family are targeted in his boyhood by a poison-pen campaign. George finds safe harbour in the reliability of rules, and grows up to become a solicitor, putting his faith in the insulating value of British justice.
Then crisis upsets the uneasy equilibrium of both men's lives. Arthur is knocked for a loop by guilt and other dishonourable emotions. George is put to the sorest test, accused of a horrible crime. And from that point on their lives weave together in the most profound and surprising way, as each man becomes the other's salvation.
Arthur & George is a masterful novel about low crime and high spirituality, guilt and innocence, identity, nationality and race. Most of all, it's a profound and witty meditation on the fateful differences between what we believe, what we know and what we can prove.
"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." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[A] finely evocative historical novel as well as a morally and psychologically astute glimpse into the worlds of two men." Los Angeles Times
"[F]ascinating....What appears to have been a 'footnote in legal history' is the source for a stunning literary achievement." Seattle Times
"Barnes's writing is, as usual, masterly....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." Michael Dirda, The Washington Post
"[D]eeply satisfying....The precision of the style suits the decorum of the period and serves to underline the warm, impulsive generosity of Doyle's support, which saved an innocent man from ruin. A triumph." Kirkus Reviews
"The results are mostly admirable, as Barnes has created brilliantly intimate portraits....Arthur and George will greatly please those who want a Dickensian sprawl of a novel with one or two heroes and a sometimes thrilling story line." Boston Globe
"A beautifully modulated work; highly recommended." Library Journal
About the Author
Julian Barnes is the author of nine novels, including Flaubert's Parrot, A History of the World in 10-1/2 Chapters, and England, England, which was shortlisted for the 1998 Booker Prize. He is also the author of Something to Declare and Letters from London, as well as two collections of short stories, Cross Channel and The Lemon Table. He lives in London, England.
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