Sunday, December 03, 2006

Arthur & George is Julian Barnes latest book and the first I have read by him. The two main characters are real people - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and George Edalji - and their lives are compared/contrasted throughout the first part of the book. The later part is more focused on Doyle's involvement in the real life miscarriage of justice that put Edalji in prison for 3 years based on part raciscm, part police incompetence. After his release, Doyle got involved and eventually got Edalji pardoned. Some of the other major themse in the book are Doyle's involvement in the spiritualism movement and his relationships with his first and second wives.

Barnes does a better job portraying Doyle than Edalji. Even though Doyle had some odd beliefs - he believed in spirits and the afterlife and even argued for the existence of fairies at one point - Barnes creates a convincing character based on the Sherlock Holmes author. On the other hand, Edalji remains a mystery. Many other characters respond strangely to him and it is never made clear if this is because of his mixed race or if it is something odd about Edalji's manner. Edalji's relationship with his father is also never fully explained - his father insisted on sleeping in the same locked room as him until he went to prison but the reasons behind this are never comfortably established.

Overall, I would highly recommend it, particularly for fans of Sherlock Holmes or of the Victorian/Edwardian period in general.

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