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Arthur and George

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RRP: £17.99, <a href ="http://www.thebookplace.com/bookplace/spring2005.asp?CID=BGO733" TARGET="_blank">The Book Pl@ce</a> Price: £17.99

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Arthur and George grow up worlds and miles apart in late nineteenth-century Britain: Arthur in shabby-genteel Edinburgh, George in the vicarage of a small Staffordshire village. Arthur becomes a doctor, and then a writer; George a solicitor in Birmingham. Arthur is to become one of the most famous men of his age, George remains in hardworking obscurity. But as the new century begins, they are brought together by a sequence of events which made sensational headlines at the time as The Great Wyrley Outrages.

George Edjali?s father is Indian, his mother Scottish. When the family begins to receive vicious anonymous letters, many about their son, they put it down to racial prejudice. They appeal to the police, to no less than the Chief Constable, but to their dismay he appears to suspect George of being the letters? author. Then someone starts slashing horses and livestock. Again the police seem to suspect the shy, aloof Birmingham solicitor. He is arrested and, on the flimsiest evidence, sent to trial, found guilty and sentenced to seven years? hard labour.

 

Arthur Conan Doyle, famous as the creator of the world?s greatest detective, is mourning his first wife (having been chastely in love for ten years with the woman who was to become his second) when he hears about the Edjali case. Incensed at this obvious miscarriage of justice, he is galvanised into trying to clear George?s name.

 

With a mixture of detailed research and vivid imagination, Julian Barnes brings to life not just this long-forgotten case, but the inner lives of these two very different men. The reader sees them both with stunning clarity, and almost inhabits them as they face the vicissitudes of their lives, whether in the dock hearing a verdict of guilty, or trying to live an honourable life while desperately in love with another woman. This is a novel in which the events of a hundred years ago constantly set off contemporary echoes, a novel about low crime and high spirituality, guilt and innocence, identity, nationality and race; about what we think, what we believe, and what we know.Julian Barnes has long been recognised as one of Britain?s most remarkable writers. While those already familiar with his work will enjoy its elegance, its wit, its profound wisdom about the human condition, Arthur & George will surely find him an entirely new audience.

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Has anyone else read this yet?

 

I got a copy from the library after hearing it tipped for Booker success. I've just finished it, and although I enjoyed it, I can't see what makes it 'great' rather than just 'good'. The characters were very well depicted and the pace of the story was good but I didn't feel that the intersection of the two separate lives was as profound as I expected it to be.

 

Perhaps someone could enlighten me.

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... I wasn't bowled over either.

 

For a novel so titled, the intertwining of the two fates took an eternity to happen (i.e only after 200 pages) and then, was dealt with in a very matter-of-fact, high level manner. That said it was an intertwining of great significance in that it resurrected both men, so to speak.

 

I didn't actually find it that enjoyable to read either - I found it positively dull in places. Even so, it was still a good read. A Booker winner - maybe, worse books have been known to win!

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I enjoyed this book and quite took to Conan Doyle at times but I wasn't too sure how to interpret Julian Barnes's take on racism. This could be because of the historical perspective - was reminded a bit of Wilkie Collins' Armadale but may be way off track with that as it's a long time since I read it. Although Arthur and George was a bit of a slog, it left me with a lot to think about.

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Ah well, at least it's not just me! To be fair, I do have to agree with BrumB that I have thought more about this book than I am usually inspired to.

 

I couldn't see the point in the focus on 'spiritism'. OK, so Conan Doyle was interested in the subject, but it didn't figure in his relationship with Edjali. The last section of the book, featuring the seance at the Albert Hall just seemed like padding.

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Cached Thread:

 

Kats 1st June 2006 01:34 PM

I've just finished reading this and, whilst I enjoyed it, I'm not sure that I'd go back to Julian Barnes (this was the first of his books that I'd read).

 

I found the pace a little slow at times, and whilst I thought George was depicted very well, Conan Doyle seemed to be a bit rushed. That said, there are some good biographies of him around (one of which I read some years ago).

 

The other thing I found intensely irritating was the change of tense. At first I thought I'd found a pattern, past for George, present for Doyle, but then it started happening all over the shop.

 

It's taken me a good 2 months to actually read it and I'm normally quite a voracious reader. All in all for me, good, but not great.

 

 

Adrian 1st June 2006 08:54 PM

 

Looks like I'm in the same camp as most of of you: I'm about a third of the way through it and so far it's OK but not as good as I was expecting. Might not even get finished before it has to go back to the library, which is unusual for me.

 

 

Starry 1st June 2006 10:15 PM

 

Must be a psychic thing with BGOers because I'm listening to this at the moment. I'm about a third of the way through - George has just been arrested. I'm enjoying it so far. The narrator has an old-fashioned voice which suits the story but is a little bit irritating. Like Kats this is my first Julian Barnes novel, so I didn't quite know what to expect, but I like his style of writing. It almost feels like a newspaper report at times, or even a court room transcript. I'm not sure if this is deliberate, but given this writer's experience I would say it probably is, to evoke the truth of the tale maybe.

 

 

katrina 2nd June 2006 02:53 PM

 

This is a novel I keep meaning to go back to, I read the first 50 or so pages and just gave up, which is something I do very rarely. The voices didn't really pull me in. Its on my tbr pile which I hope to attack over the summer holidays

 

 

Phoebus 3rd June 2006 08:41 PM

 

I read this last year and loved it from start to finish. I like good docu-fiction and believe that author did his homework to avoid too much poetic licence.

 

I was sorry when it ended.

 

Phoebus

 

 

agnesd 4th June 2006 02:40 AM

 

Loved It

 

I agree I loved it from start to finish.

 

 

belwebb 14th June 2006 10:14 PM

I agree I loved it from start to finish.

 

I am 150 pages through this and for the past year I've been curious about it but not curious enough to buy it and then I bought it last week as a 3 for 2 deal. I respect Barnes, he is a highly accomplished and meticulously researcher/writer, although The History of the World in 10 1/2 chapters was only read halfway through. Anyway, like someone else said on an earlier post, I do find it a little too much like a court / newspaper report at times, and that makes me feel as though I'm not really 'in there'. I read The Sea by John Banville, which Arthur and George was competing against in last year's Booker and I can well understand now why Banville won, the two books couldn't be more different. Anyhoo, I shall stick with A&G and report back in a few days.

 

 

Starry 14th June 2006 10:37 PM

 

I finished listening to this today and must admit that it has been one of the most interactive recordings I have listened to so far - I could not help but shout at the cd player as the story progressed. ACD really annoyed me, his agonising over his affair struck me as supremely hypocritical and his stance on women's rights made me want to kick him :D He just came across as so arrogant. But that aside, the fact that I became so involved in the characters' lives that I was telling George not to be so daft makes me think that Julian Barnes wrote an engaging, interesting and entertaining novel. I do think some parts were overlong, leaving George in prison while we wandered through the moral misgivings of ACD's affair was very nearly unforgiveable and I thought the long chapter at the end about the spiritualist meeting was dull until I talked it over with a friend and suddenly saw the value of it.

 

It has encouraged me to seek out ACD's books and I have now started listening to A Study in Scarlet - my first Sherlock Holmes book and I'm enjoying, or at least I would be if the reader wasn't so awful! I think listening to the novel is a different experience to reading it and to a certain extent depends on the quality of the reader, but in the case of Arthur and George Nigel Anthony was very impressive and I wasn't surprised to learn that it was a BBC recording.

 

Continued below...

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Cached thread continued...

 

megustaleer 16th June 2006, 07:44 AM

It has encouraged me to seek out ACD's books and I have now started listening to A Study in Scarlet .

 

A Study In Scarlet was the BGO Bookgroup book last October/November. The discussion on it can be found in the Bookgroup Archive, if you'd like to read it, and add your thoughts

 

 

chuntzy 3rd December 2006, 08:14 PM

 

It didn't take me long to get into this book and it's really engaged me. I think Barnes has been honest in his portrayal of both men: neither are meant to be entirely loveable. Regarding the portrayal of ACD I think you can't judge a character from early 20th c. with 2006 viewpoint vis-a -vis his views on womanhood for example. They would be quite typical of men of his class and background.

 

 

Starry 4th December 2006, 10:19 AM

Regarding the portrayal of ACD I think you can't judge a character from early 19th c. with 2006 viewpoint vis-a -vis his views on womanhood for example. They would be quite typical of men of his class and background.

 

I'm sure they are typical and of course Julian Barnes was right to include them for authenticity. But why can't I judge a character by my own standards? I know he was a man of his time and I understand that he was expressing beliefs prevalent at the time, but that doesn't mean I have to like him or his attitudes, does it?

 

 

chuntzy 4th December 2006, 01:11 PM

 

No, of course a reader doesn't have to like a character and, as I wrote, I didn't find either completely likeable, it's just that I don't particularly like the sexual politics angle being a 'prime suspect' in literature.

 

Not relevant possibly, but I am a 'she' ( but another long-term member has my christian name, the subscriber Hazel).

 

 

Starry 4th December 2006, 03:11 PM

it's just that I don't particularly like the sexual politics angle being a 'prime suspect' in literature.

 

I've thought and thought about your comment chuntzy, but I'm not sure I really understand what you are saying here so I'm hestitant to post a reaction in case I haven't read you correctly. All I will say though is that I was just trying to explain my very personal reaction to the story and to ACD as portrayed in this story, which of course will be a 2006 reaction.

 

 

chuntzy 4th December 2006, 04:58 PM

 

Starry, we agree on most points about this book and both of us it seems got engaged with the characters. I'm not very good at expressing myself so sorry if I seemed a bit uppity. It's just that in the past I've only subscribed to one book site and that was USA-based: there was quite a lot of strident criticism of novels from 'women's studies/feministstudies' viewpoint, like having no time for Tess d'Urbervilles because she wasn't more pro-active etc. I simply take the line of does a portrayal ring true.

 

 

Starry 4th December 2006, 10:03 PM

 

Ah, I think I understand now. I think you are right, we do agree - I enjoyed the novel and thought the characters were very well portrayed, even if I didn't like ACD much

 

I've noticed that about US based boards as well. They seem very strident in their opinions.

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I read this recently and actually really liked it. I wasn't too sure what to expect as I knew afew BGO'ers had read it and didn't give it glowing reviews, but I loved the characterisation by Barnes (if I didn't warm to ACD too much). I found the inclusion of actual quotes from reports of the Edalji case from the time really fascinating and it brought it to life.

 

 

After reading in the post-script that Barnes invented ACD's affair, I wondered why he had done this. Did he just feel that ACD was 'that sort of man'. I wonder if he just wanted to sensationalise the story a bit more, as if ACD hadn't have had the affair his life would have been rather 'perfect' (doting wife, successful career, helping out in miscarriages of justice cases, etc). I also wondered about the final scene in the Albert Hall, and thought that Barnes was sort of undecided about spiritualism - George is almost taken in by it but then he concluded that it's nonsense. What did other people think about the spiritualism aspect?

 

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I read this recently and actually really liked it. I wasn't too sure what to expect as I knew afew BGO'ers had read it and didn't give it glowing reviews, but I loved the characterisation by Barnes (if I didn't warm to ACD too much). I found the inclusion of actual quotes from reports of the Edalji case from the time really fascinating and it brought it to life.

 

 

After reading in the post-script that Barnes invented ACD's affair, I wondered why he had done this. Did he just feel that ACD was 'that sort of man'. I wonder if he just wanted to sensationalise the story a bit more, as if ACD hadn't have had the affair his life would have been rather 'perfect' (doting wife, successful career, helping out in miscarriages of justice cases, etc). I also wondered about the final scene in the Albert Hall, and thought that Barnes was sort of undecided about spiritualism - George is almost taken in by it but then he concluded that it's nonsense. What did other people think about the spiritualism aspect?

 

I found it an interesting novel but, like you, couldn't warm to ACD much either. A couple of pals of mine who read it thought it was a total work of fiction until I pointed out that Edalji case was for real.

 

Didn't realise that ACD had invented the affair!!!

 

 

ETA:

 

I can't resist this. On a U.S. based booksite yesterday -

 

"I have been very curious about Arthur and George but I have heard there is cruelty to horses.." Words fail me.

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I lost interest in Arthur and George when I first tried to read it three years ago within 50 pages but as it's my current book group read I've been trying to plough through it again and gosh am I finding it hard work. It's really difficcult to get engaged with the charecters, I feel indignant on George's behalf because of such a flagrant miscarriage of justice but I don't really care about him and like other BGO'ers I think Arthur is just downright annoying. In fact the most vivid charecter for me is prejudiced, sure-he's-never-wrong Captain Anson whom I'd dearly like to give a kick in the you know what.

 

I really, really like my book group otherwise this would have been abaandoned for the second time around page 50.

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I am getting on for half way through this book and am really enjoying it.  Although I knew before I started the book that it was based partly on the life of Arthur Conan Doyle I did not really know much about it apart from that.  I certainly did not know that it was about an old court case. I decided to read it following my reading of A Sense of an Ending by the same author recently and the advice of other BGO readers not because I had read the back of the book and liked the idea of the story.  I am glad so far that I did.

 

The book is very easy to read and the two main characters well drawn.  So far I especially like George and already feel that I care about the outcome for him.  I do like to care about my characters so this is always an added bonus for me.  At the moment I have no real idea how the story is going to unfold which again is a bonus as it keeps me interested.  It is very different from A Sense of an Ending although I did enjoy that too.  If it carries on as it has started I suspect that I will be ordering other books by the same author.  I will be interested to read the comments of other readers when I have finished.

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I am about two thirds of the way through this book and am finding it difficult to put down.  Arthur is now playing a much bigger part and the the two have finally met.  I love the view that the reader gets of the the thought processes of the two characters.  It feels as if I can see into their minds.

 

The book deals with many issues that are as real now as they were when the book was written.  The one aspect of the book that I find the most intriguing is that of racism.  I tend to think of racism in The UK as a more modern problem so was quite surprised to find it playing such a part in this book.  I find it very interesting to view the way that both men view the racism and the way in which they deal with it.  

 

The two characters involved in the book are the real joy of this book for me.  Seeing the ways in which they develop from children into grown men, how they deal with what life throws at them and the choices that they make is quite fascinating.

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I finished this book this morning and have just read the comments of other readers.  Boy are they a mixed bag!  Some I agree with, some not as would be expected.  I really did think that the characters were well drawn and unlike some other readers I did care about the outcome for George.  All the way through the book it was him I cared about the most rather than ACD.  I suspect that if I had met ACD I may well not have liked him too much.  He was so very sure of himself.  I know that he was a great man and apart from being a great author involved himself in many other things including righting some great wrongs but I think that he would just have been to forceful for my liking.  You do not have to like a person or even a character to admire them.

 

I too found no need for the last section of the book which included the seance.  Too be honest once the section of the book reviewing the court case was over I lost interest a bit.  Once the characters had been revealed, the first part of the book, the court case described and ACD's campaign complete and results arrived at I am not sure why most of the rest of the book was necessary.  Surely a little summary of the lives of the two men after their meetings was all that was needed!  A real shame for me that such an engaging read was rather spoilt by unnecessary padding at the end.

 

Over all a really good read but not a great one.  I too have read The Sea by John Banville which won The Booker Prize the year that Arthur and George was short listed.  For me the right book won.

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