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Arthur And George [Paperback]

Julian Barnes
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good read Jan. 10 2007
Format:Paperback
An intelligent, intriguing book. Arthur and George are vividly sketched, very interesting characters. A mystery, biography, court room drama and historical novel all wrapped into one. My only complaint is that it takes a bit longer than I would have liked to hit its stride and outline the central mystery of the story. "Arthur & George" lost the Booker Prize in 2005 to John Banville's The Sea, which I really can't fathom as it is a much better book.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply brilliant. March 5 2006
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
In 1903, solicitor George Edalji is arrested and convicted of mutilating cattle and other farm animals as well as writing threatening letters. He is sent to prison and disbarred from practicing law.----- In 1906 Arthur Conan Doyle still grieves the loss of his beloved life when he learns of the case that some claim is the result of racism. He does a perfunctory review and quickly learns that police and others have harassed the Edalji family before the arrest and apparently continue to do so. He digs deeper as the investigation helps him out of his morbid funk until he concludes that the extremely near-sighted George, who can barely see and was obviously a logical rational person, could not have committed these atrocious acts. Doyle begins a campaign to free George and get him reinstated as a lawyer.------ This is a terrific fictionalized account of a real event as Doyle actually undertook a campaign to free the imprisoned Edalji. The investigation grips the audience who will receive a taste of Edwardian England’s darker societal practices as much as insight into the two lead characters. Readers will understand how the intelligent George became a victim and how Arthur turned to spiritualism when logic especially that of his society failed him. The details make this a fabulous historical fiction that will shock the audience with its equivalency to the Emile Zola-Dreyfus Affair. Another great read in the genre is 'Giorgio Quest' Highly recommend.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction March 18 2012
By OpenMind TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
I'm still shaking my head that I never read this great book until now. I'm also still shaking my head at the miscarriage of justice it details. Yes, it is a novel, but almost all of the historical details are accurate. The first part of the book is especially haunting, as it paints a picture of an awkward, earnest young lawyer (whose background, which turns out to be a possibly motivating factor for his ensuing apprehension and detainment, is kept hidden until later on) by the name of George is falsely accused of heinous and disturbing crimes in his small community in Staffordshire. Arthur, a failed eye doctor turned successful novelist, tries to come to grips with his father's debilitating illness, his wife's death, and his public's obsession with what he perceives to be a one-trick pony. Arthur hears of George's plight and brings to bear his connections, his fervour for righteousness, and his humanity to help him.

Alternately uplifting and saddening, Arthur & George is always moving. The middle portion of the novel, which elaborates on Arthur's relationships, goes on a bit too long, but overall it is an engaging read. Highly recommended.
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By Donald Mitchell #1 HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
"It is a joy for the just to do justice,
But destruction will come to the workers of iniquity." -- Proverbs 21:15 (NKJV)

Many people primarily know about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as the creator of Sherlock Holmes, something he didn't take as much comfort from as his fans did. After a number of years, Sir Arthur began looking into cases of seeming injustice to employ his skills as a crime thinker. This book considers the most highly visible and important of those investigations, the conviction of an innocent man, solicitor George Edalji, who was a victim of racial prejudice in part and an incompetent court system in part. Sir Arthur was also a dedicated student of what was called spiritualism, had a most unusual relationship with his mother, and courted his second wife in a most unusual way.

Julian Barnes intertwines the stories of the two men to illuminate our understanding of them, their times, and their nation. In doing so, he draws on authentic letters and quotations to ground his "fiction" in plenty of fact. The result resembles something a bit better than the so-called new journalism that some use to report news stories today in fictionalized form.

I have read about the facts covered by this book in a number of different forms, and I was blown away by how much more effective Mr. Barnes' approach is for making the story interesting, lively, and revealing. As a result, I added a lot to my understanding, even though I thought I didn't need to do so.

Bravo, Mr. Barnes!
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Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  170 reviews
140 of 142 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars George Is My Hero April 21 2006
By Bart King - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Although I'm aware of his reputation, I have never read Julian Barnes before. But I could tell from the beginning of this book that I was in the hands of a master. In ARTHUR AND GEORGE, Barnes writes very convincingly in a Victorian Age style. His book describes the parallel experiences of George Edalji, a methodical Englishman of East Indian descent, and Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes stories, Peer of the Realm, and sportsman.

This book is based on a true story of how George's legal predicament evolved into a landmark case regarding appeals. I am reluctant to reveal plot details for fear of spoiling anyone's enjoyment of the tale. Rest assured that the book is abominably clever, and Barnes has a real gift for slipping in details that reveal much to the observant reader.

I will warn of two things, however. First, this book employs a good deal of exposition, particularly in the early going. Stick with it, as once the background is painted in, Barnes does marvelous things moving the tale forward.

My other concern is that the book does lag badly at its mid-point mark. Although the two protagonists are quite different, Doyle is oddly the less interesting of the two characters at that stage. We come to admire George and his steadfastness, while we come to see Doyle as a man constantly on the move, seemingly trying to escape from under the heel of his own repressed virility. (Boy, I never thought I'd write a sentence like that.)

These cavils aside, a brilliant book. I'm glad to have read it.
33 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Real Live Adventure Feb. 18 2007
By JAD - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
In ARTHUR AND GEORGE, author Julian Barnes presents the intersection of two lives - one successful and celebrated the other obscure -- until a strange conjunction of events propels each of them into the glaring spotlight of the British judicial system. The famous person is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; the unknown and ill-served man is George Edalji, the son of a Parsee Anglican Clergyman and his Scottish wife. Edalji is accused and convicted of a series of barbaric attacks on farm animals, incarcerated, and after several years in prison, released but not exonerated.

Enter the recently-widowed creator of Sherlock Holmes, who decides to use the same skills of his fictional detective in a quest to absolve Edalji and solve the crime. Utilizing both facts and deduction, as well as modicum of subterfuge and a healthy dose of influence, Conan Doyle sets to work on cracking the case.

Author Barnes has done a superb job of researching this true crime story--which at the time rivaled the Dryfuss case in France. Long-since forgotten by the cavalcade of history, the circumstances are revived and reviewed by Barnes in a thoroughgoing manner. He allows the reader to garner the impressions and facts that have guided his research into the crime, and is scrupulously accurate in his account of these two men and their contemporaries.

It makes for an often riveting narrative--and is "so adventurous a tale it may rank with most romances" as W. S. Gilbert might have put it. The reader follows the surprising twists and illuminating turns, and is deeply sympathetic to both Arthur and George, men whose lives are anything but ordinary, as well as to all the main characters in the novel. It is clear that Barnes has become warmhearted toward them and he succeeds in helping the reader to become fond of them as well.

Some passages in the book are quite tender and lyrical. There is poignancy to the moment he describes when Sir Arthur encounters the winner of a strong-man competition. Barnes' description of the various facets of Conan Doyle's personality is also outstanding.

The surprises continue till the last pages and the closest comparison one might make would be to E. L. Doctorow's RAGTIME, which similarly recounts an historic event in a way that the narrative flows like fiction. Indeed, as has been said, "Fiction is real life with the boring bits taken out." Barnes has done this, splendidly.

If you find this review helpful you might want to read some of my other reviews, including those on subjects ranging from biography to architecture, as well as religion and fiction.
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exploring what defines a man. June 8 2006
By C. Matthew Curtin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Arthur & George is the story of two boys who came of age in late Victorian England. One became a celebrity author; the other, a humble solicitor whose claim to fame should have been a treatise on railway law. We follow their lives from early childhood to the end, experiencing life with them in a time and place far removed from the western world in the twenty-first century.

Julian Barnes weaves for us a story, one scene at a time that helps us to realize who Arthur and George are. One man was famous; the other became infamous. One man was widely considered what is best in Englishmen; the other was "not the right sort." One was a man of faith in the unseen; the other a man of faith in himself. One helped to clear the name of a fellow countryman; the other could not clear his own name unaided.

In Arthur & George, we are granted a glimpse into the psyche of men, the struggle to balance our desires with what we want to be and the hope that personal integrity will ultimately prove stronger than whatever adversity we face. Barnes explores a thought quite dear to my heart: justice can be denied but character will endure. Men of good character--of strong character, who have not surrendered to the prejudices of others--will not be defined by their circumstances; men of substance will always (if belatedly) be known for who they are. Or, as Horace Greeley said,

Fame is a vapor, popularity is an accident, money takes wings, those who cheer you today may curse you tomorrow. The only thing that endures is character.

Barnes is a wonderful storyteller and reading his prose is a pleasure. To read Arthur & George is to visit another place and time and to discover that for however things change in the world around us, things remain very much unchanged in matters of defining who we are.
56 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lives Imagined Jan. 10 2006
By Charlus - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Julian Barnes, with his usual elegant prose style, imagines the intertwined lives of two real nineteenth century figures, the solicitor George Edalji and the author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, most famous as the creator of Sherlock Holmes. And as befitting a story associated with Holmes, even if at once removed, at the center of this tale lays a mystery. But Barnes, an experienced mystery writer under a nom de plume, has bigger game afoot.

The book moves from an intimate biography of the two men to the gradual revelation of the criminal case that stands at its center. The case echoes in its bare outline Peter Schaffer's play "Equus". But the playing out of the case, and the novel itself, echoes an even more illustrious progenitor, EM Forster's "A Passage to India", exposing the false promise of the protections of the British law when left in the hands of individuals prey to racism and class conciousness.

These larger themes are woven into a narrative of supense, emotional urgency and full-bodied characters, making this one of Barnes's most successful works to date. Like the Edwardian fiction it calls to mind, this is old-fashioned reading at its best.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A marvellous marriage of research and imagination Jan. 24 2006
By Ralph Blumenau - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This novel is based on a real series of events which themselves seem as strange as any fiction concocted by Sherlock Holmes. The first two-thirds of the book give us, in alternating chapters, parallel biographies, with no contact between them whatever, of the two very different men, the stolid solicitor George Edalji and the bluff Arthur Conan Doyle. We have here a most subtle examination of the development of two very different personalities, and an imaginative capacity to enter into their minds. There is a degree of sensitivity in Barnes' writing which we do not find in Conan Doyle's. One is gripped by the psychological tensions under which each of these men labour: Arthur as he wrestled with his sense of honour towards his gentle ailing wife but also towards the woman with whom he was in love and who loved him; George as he struggled with the fate as it was enmeshing him. (Brilliant as Barnes' verbal picture of the two men is, it is, I think, a pity that the book does not include photographs of them. The ones I have seen on the Internet are in themselves eloquent of the differences between the two men - the one the haunted face of a half-Indian, the other Elgaresque in its Englishness.)

In 1903 George was sentenced to seven years imprisonment for crimes he had not committed. The way he coped with imprisonment is surely unusual, but I found it convincing. After a campaign of petitioning from his friends, the Home Office came to the conclusion that the length of the sentence had been excessive and he was released after three years, but without his name being cleared. George and his friends continued to campaign to have his name cleared; and it was at this stage, two thirds through the book, that Arthur took up George's case. A criticism I have of the book is that there is no satisfactory explanation why he should take up this particular case: the author of the Sherlock Holmes stories had, to his irritation, often been asked to help solve a crime, and it is said that up to this time he had regularly declined. The account of their discussion at their first meeting may be based on documentation, but I don't find it at all convincing - odd, since nowhere else does Barnes' dialogue fail in this way.

I have also to say that from that moment onwards, the psychological tension of the novel rather fades away and a detective story takes over, as Arthur acts in a Sherlock Holmes-like way to clear George and to identify the real perpetrator of the crimes. Thanks to Arthur's campaign, the Home Office eventually had to give a free pardon (there was as yet no Court of Appeal, and the Edalji case contributed greatly to such a court being set up later in 1907); but did it in a thoroughly weasly way: ensuring that no one was actually blamed for the miscarriage of justice (except, by implication, George himself!), refusing to pay him compensation, and failing also to take any notice of Arthur's identification of the true criminals leads. All this leads to a let-down towards the end of the book which as a novelist Julian Barnes would surely have liked to avoid but which was forced upon him by the historical facts of the case. The novel does not deal with the anti-climax of the next five years or so, during which Arthur failed to get Captain Anson, the prejudiced Chief Constable of Staffordshire, to pursue the true criminals. Instead, Barnes counteracts this feeling of let-down with a short, spine-tinglingly written final section about the memorial meeting for Conan Doyle (it took the form of a spiritualist s ance in the presence of over a thousand people in the Albert Hall), a quarter of a century after Arthur and George had last met. And on the last two pages of the book there are two unexpected twists to the story.

All this is set against the carefully researched social and political conditions of the period and an understanding of Victorian-Edwardian mores and mind-sets. The whole book, written in a beautifully limpid style, is a magnificent blend of scholarship and imagination. One really cares about the two protagonists as people and, as the story develops, one is kept on tenterhooks as one is by a good thriller. A real treat of a book.
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