Monday, June 16, 2008

Book Review: Arthur and George

Arthur and George by Julian Barnes is a novel that quotes real-life. The real-life incident it recounts is when Arthur Conan Doyle helped clear the name of an Englishman of Indian descent who had been injustly accused of a series of crimes (and his name was, yes, George). A good book, with just a few complaints. It was too self-indulgent in spelling out the thoughts of many characters at length, and many times it wouldn't really sound like a 19th-century Englishman but rather an early-21st-century one (namely, the author). These two faults often went together: I would have preferred something more like GK Chesterton (a product of this exact era of history), but what I got sometimes verged on Oprah. That said, whenever possible the historial documents and records are used, and it is a lot more entertaining than the average biography. It probably could have been half the length, but it does detail the entire lives of each of the protagonists, and does a fairly good job of translating some odd details like the prevalence of Spritualism in Arthur's life, as well as the kind of solicitor George turned out to be. The frustrating nature of the local police force is also well described, although it's hard to think of characters that frustrating as being real and not distortions. Given the contents of the accusations made against George, I'll have to conclude that the author got that one right and it's the real people from 100 years ago who are frustrating, not the author's version of those people!

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