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Arthur and George (Vintage International)

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Arthur and George (Vintage International) Cover

ISBN13: 9781400097036
ISBN10: 1400097037
Condition: Standard
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Excerpt

one

Beginnings

Arthur

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. A door was there to be pushed; he walked in, stopped, looked. There was nobody to observe him; he turned and walked away, carefully shutting the door behind him.

What he saw there became his first memory. A small boy, a room, a bed, closed curtains leaking afternoon light. By the time he came to describe it publicly, sixty years had passed. How many internal retellings had smoothed and adjusted the plain words he finally used? Doubtless it still seemed as clear as on the day itself. The door, the room, the light, the bed, and what was on the bed: a ‘white, waxen thing.

A small boy and a corpse: such encounters would not have been so rare in the Edinburgh of his time. High mortality rates and cramped circumstances made for early learning. The household was Catholic, and the body that of Arthurs grandmother, one Katherine Pack. Perhaps the door had been deliberately left ajar. There might have been a desire to impress upon the child the horror of death; or, more optimistically, to show him that death was nothing to be feared. Grandmothers soul had clearly flown up to Heaven, leaving behind only the sloughed husk of her body. The boy wants to see? Then let the boy see.

An encounter in a curtained room. A small boy and a corpse. A grandchild who, by the acquisition of memory, had just stopped being a thing, and a grandmother who, by losing those attributes the child was developing, had returned to that state. The small boy stared; and over half a century later the adult man was still staring. Quite what a ‘thing amounted to or, to put it more exactly, quite what happened when the tremendous change took place, leaving only a ‘thing behind was to become of central importance to Arthur.

George

George does not have a first memory, and by the time anyone suggests that it might be normal to have one, it is too late. He has no recollection obviously preceding all others not of being picked up, cuddled, laughed at or chastised. He has an awareness of once having been an only child, and a knowledge that there is now Horace as well, but no primal sense of being disturbingly presented with a brother, no expulsion from paradise. Neither a first sight, nor a first smell: whether of a scented mother or a carbolicy maid-of-all-work.

He is a shy, earnest boy, acute at sensing the expectations of others. At times he feels he is letting his parents down: a dutiful child should remember being cared for from the first. Yet his parents never rebuke him for this inadequacy. And while other children might make good the lack might forcibly install a mothers doting face or a fathers supporting arm in their memories George does not do so. For a start, he lacks imagination. Whether he has never had one, or whether its growth has been stunted by some parental act, is a question for a branch of psychological science which has not yet been devised. George is fully capable of following the inventions of others the stories of Noahs Ark, David and Goliath, the Journey of the Magi but has little such capacity himself.

He does not feel guilty about this, since his parents do not regard it as a fault in him. When they say that a child in the village has ‘too much imagination, it is clearly a term of dispraise. Further up the scale are ‘tellers of tall stories and ‘fibbers; by far the worst is the child who is ‘a liar through and through such are to be avoided at all costs. George himself is never urged to speak the truth: this would imply that he needs encouragement. It is simpler than this: he is expected to tell the truth because at the Vicarage no alternative exists.

‘I am the way, the truth and the life: he is to hear this many times on his fathers lips. The way, the truth and the life. You go on your way through life telling the truth. George knows that this is not exactly what the Bible means, but as he grows up this is how the words sound to him.

Arthur

For Arthur there was a normal distance between home and church; but each place was filled with presences, with stories and instructions. In the cold stone church where he went once a week to kneel and pray, there was God and Jesus Christ and the Twelve Apostles and the Ten Commandments and the Seven Deadly Sins. Everything was very orderly, always listed and numbered, like the hymns and the prayers and the verses of the Bible.

He understood that what he learned there was the truth; but his imagination preferred the different, parallel version he was taught at home. His mothers stories were also about far distant times, and also designed to teach him the distinction between right and wrong. She would stand at the kitchen range, stirring the porridge, tucking her hair back behind her ears as she did so; and he would wait for the moment when she would tap the stick against the pan, pause, and turn her round, smiling face towards him. Then her grey eyes would hold him, while her voice made a moving curve in the air, swooping up and down, then slowing almost to a halt as she reached the part of the tale he could scarcely endure, the part where exquisite torment or joy awaited not just hero and heroine, but the listener as well.

‘And then the knight was held over the pit of writhing snakes, which hissed and spat as their twining lengths ensnared the whitening bones of their previous victims . . .

‘And then the black-hearted villain, with a hideous oath, drew a secret dagger from his boot and advanced towards the defenceless . . .

‘And then the maiden took a pin from her hair and the golden tresses fell from the window, down, down, caressing the castle walls until they almost reached the verdant grass on which he stood . . .

Arthur was an energetic, headstrong boy who did not easily sit still; but once the Mam raised her porridge stick he was held in a state of silent enchantment as if a villain from one of her stories had slipped a secret herb into his food. Knights and their ladies then moved about the tiny kitchen; challenges were issued, quests miraculously fulfilled; armour clanked, chain mail rustled, and honour was always upheld.

From the Hardcover edition.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 2 comments:

Roger S Oldfield, January 24, 2012 (view all comments by Roger S Oldfield)
It's a very fine novel. As an expert on the Edalji family, though, I spent the whole time thinking about the extent to which it reflects the historical record. There are points at which it departs deliberately from actual events, and there are points at which there are (I think) unwitting distortions and mistakes. For a critique of the book in these terms see my 'Outrage: The Edalji Five and the Shadow of Sherlock Holmes', Vanguard Press. The book is the first to set the case of George Edalji in the wider context of the experiences of the Edalji family as a whole, a subject which Julian Barnes did not research in detail. The website is outrage-rogeroldfield.co.uk.
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Kelly Stark, January 1, 2011 (view all comments by Kelly Stark)
The only thing East Indian about George is his dark skin; otherwise, he is the most English of the English: stolid, plodding, sure of being a citizen of the finest country on earth, proud to be a member of England's judiciary. Arthur is also English, of the cricket, social, well-married type, and just as certain there is justice in England. He's also the author of the most famous detective novels in English history and makes it a point of honor to exonerate George of the barbaric crimes he's been convicted of. One of these men never lies, and the other lies all the time, but they are both men of honor and good character. The pas de deux of these men's lives is one very fine novel.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9781400097036
Author:
Barnes, Julian
Publisher:
Vintage Books USA
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
Historical - General
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Paperback
Series:
Vintage International
Publication Date:
20070131
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
445
Dimensions:
8.00x5.22x.97 in. .77 lbs.

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Arthur and George (Vintage International) Used Trade Paper
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Product details 445 pages Vintage Books USA - English 9781400097036 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "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.)
"Review" by , "[A] finely evocative historical novel as well as a morally and psychologically astute glimpse into the worlds of two men."
"Review" by , "[F]ascinating....What appears to have been a 'footnote in legal history' is the source for a stunning literary achievement."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "[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."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "A beautifully modulated work; highly recommended."
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