Arthur & George

Arthur & George

Book - 2005
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Random House, Inc.
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.


George and his father pray together, kneeling side by side on the scrubbed boards. Then George climbs into bed while his father locks the door and turns out the light. As he falls asleep, George sometimes thinks of the floor, and how his soul must be scrubbed just as the boards are scrubbed.

Father is not an easy sleeper, and has a tendency to groan and wheeze. Sometimes, in the early morning, when dawn is beginning to show at the edges of the curtains, Father will catechize him.

"George, where do you live?"
"The Vicarage, Great Wyrley."
"And where is that?"
"Staffordshire, Father."
"And where is that?"
"The centre of England."
"And what is England, George?"
"England is the beating heart of the Empire, Father."
"Good. And what is the blood that flows through the arteries and veins of the Empire to reach even its farthest shore?"
"The Church of England."
"Good, George."

And after a while Father will begin to groan and wheeze again. George watches the outline of the curtain harden. He lies there thinking of arteries and veins making red lines on the map of the world, linking Britain to all the places coloured pink: Australia and India and Canada and islands dotted everywhere. He thinks of blood bubbling though these tubes and emerging in Sydney, Bombay, the St. Lawrence Waterway. Bloodlines, that is a word he has heard somewhere. With the pulse of blood in his ears, he begins to fall asleep again.

—excerpt from Arthur & George

Publisher: Toronto : Random House Canada, 2005
ISBN: 9780679314172
0679314172
Characteristics: 360 p. ; 25 cm
Alternative Title: Arthur and George

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w
wyenotgo
May 09, 2016

Not quite four stars, largely because of its uneven pace and anti-climactic ending. The book takes a very long time to reveal how the lives of Arthur and George finally intersect. My point being that much of the book is taken up with matters such as Arthur's marital issues and his devotion to spiritism, both of which are essentially irrelevant. I concede that George's unusual upbringing and odd personality do have a bearing on what happens to him and therefore merit the amount of space devoted to those details.
What really made this a worthwhile read is its exploration of the monumental stupidity of the police, combined with the determined racism of those in control of the English "justice" system of the day. To cap it off, the steadfast refusal of the authorities to admit that anyone had done anything wrong or even to offer an apology, let alone compensation to the victim. A cautionary tale, so be sure. A positive outcome was that the case provided impetus toward the establishment of a court of appeal.
Barnes' somewhat old-fashioned style of writing may not appeal to many readers of our day, but it's appropriate to a story set at the height of the Victorian era; it's not a quick read, demands some patience but it held my attention in spite of its shortcomings.

multcolib_susannel Oct 09, 2015

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is drawn into a case involving murdered animals, threatening letters and relentless bullying. Based on a real crime.

l
LazyNeko
Jan 28, 2012

The story about the incredible injustice done to George is gripping, but it doesn't mesh all that well against the biography of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Still, it's fun to read a portrayal of Sherlock Holmes's creator in action and on a real case.

jgoody Dec 29, 2011

"A boy sees". It's one of the first lines you read in this book. Immediately you become enthralled into the story of Arthur and George. Julian Barnes wrote this novel in a most eloquent and sophisticated manner. His story took me to a comfortable England. Arthur is always the heroine yet always seeks more. Edalji is so on the straight and narrow that he never sees the way that people can be so malicious. I absolutely loved this book! It was a delight to know that much of the story was based on the real life events of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and George Edalji...very much a treat! Great read!

n
Nikchick
Jun 27, 2011

A compelling novelization of a real world mystery, Barnes does a great job bringing these historical figures to life.

h
Hadley
Nov 19, 2008

A fascinating story, based on historical events, and probably Barnes' most accessible book.

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LazyNeko
Jan 28, 2012

Life. How easily everyone, including himself, said the word. Life must go on, everyone routinely agreed. And yet how few asked what it was, and why it was, and if it was the only life or the mere amphitheatre to something quite different. Arthur was frequently baffled by the complacency with which people went on with... with what they insouciantly called their lives, as if both the word and the thing made perfect sense to them.

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