Arthur & George by Julian Barnes


Arthur and George grow up worlds and miles apart in late 19th-century Britain: Arthur in shabby-genteel Edinburgh, and George in the vicarage of a small Staffordshire village. Arthur becomes a doctor, and then a writer; George a solicitor in Birmingham. 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. 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.

(Synopsis taken and abridged from back cover)

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  1. moirabbc

     /  March 24, 2010

    I read this 2 years ago after reading a review which, I think, hinted at Arthur’s identity and George’s colour so the withholding of this information for a good part of the book was wasted on me. Still, it was a clever device. The characters were ‘coloured-in’ so well that I believe I have met them, at least in ‘another life.’ Especially George! His attention to detail, precise way of speaking, adherence to routine and myopic faith in the Law was described with insight and respect.
    Barnes gives some attention to how such an enlightened person as Arthur Conan Doyle became such a proponent of spiritualism but I needed more of an explanation than was given. A very worthy book for discussion.

  2. richardbbc

     /  March 21, 2010

    I came to this book after a dose of flu that had for a fortnight prevented me from seriously reading anything and I think part of the reason I enjoyed it so much was simply the pleasure of being able to concentrate on a novel, indeed any novel, once again. So perhaps I readily forgave it its length and occasional excess of detail, which might have put me off normally. I am glad though I stuck with it as I was very impressed with the way Barnes takes an almost documentary approach to fiction while quietly illustrating that any construction put upon what happened is itself a way of creating fiction.

  3. Michele – I did a similar thing, and was surprised by the revelation of both Arthur’s identity, and George’s ancestry. Son of an Anglican vicar? Naturally I had assumed he was white, which should be a warning to the reader from the outset about racial prejudice and the danger of assumption.

  4. michelebbc

     /  March 19, 2010

    I took the audio version of the book away from the meeting and spent 17 hours of my commute to work listening to it. After following my usual policy of never reading the backs of books or looking at any reviews until after I’ve read them I was shocked to discover, after about 5 hours, that I was reading a story involving Arthur Conan-Doyle! There are lots of interesting situations in the story that explore ideas of racism and how people fit into society or are not accepted if they are slightly ‘different’ and the author often seems to use the thought of George to express his own views.

    Dispite its meandering style I was drawn into the story and thoroughly enjoyed it.


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