Arthur & George: Julian Barnes

I know it has been a while. This one took a little long to read. Not just a slow burner, life has been pretty hectic over the past month. I have now relocated (if temporarily) back to my mother’s house in Devon, university life now being well and truly over. Hopefully, the peace and quiet will allow me a little more time to read (I highly doubt it).

And now, to Arthur & George. This one jumped out at me in the Amnesty Bookshop (back in York), partially because I had a vague inkling of a television programme of the same name based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s life. I was partially right, the book is based upon actual fact, yet is mostly focused upon the case of George Edalji. I have read bits and pieces by Julian Barnes before, chiefly A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters as a sixth form set text. That was pretty bizarre in itself, with one chapter being told from the view point of a word-worm on Noah’s Ark. So to be honest, before starting this book I wa not very sure what to expect.

George Edalji was a Birmingham solicitor, convicted in 1903 for the mutilation of livestock in the ‘Great Wyrley Outrages’ and suspected of penning a number of malicious letters to himself and his father, an Indian Christian vicar in Great Wyrley. He was  given a seven year sentence, and let out after only serving three with no explanation. It was at this point that Edalji contacted Conan Doyle for help, his case already having attracted 10,000 signatures and being publicised by his family. Conan Doyle aims to prove Edalji innocent and gain reparations for his case. The narrative flips between the viewpoint of Arthur and George, detailing their lives in third person – George in present tense and Arthur in past. A vast amount of context is provided, with the two protagonists not meeting until at least halfway through the book, if not further.

I did quite enjoy this book. One thing I must say, is that I read the whole story without googling the case, to be honest I was not even sure that it had really occurred. This I feel really aided the reading experience, as I was unaware of what would happen. I found parts of Arthur & George difficult to read, I am rather uncomfortable reading about people being obviously set up or discriminated against. But that is just a personal fault. At times though, I did find the writing style slightly cumbersome, the book took a lot of time to get going in its desire to provide detail. It was no Charles Dickens (detail-wise), but this style prolonged my suffering somewhat, and at times even provoked me to skip ahead to conclusions before going back and reading the detail (something I rarely do).

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