Steve's Reviews > Arthur & George

Arthur & George by Julian Barnes
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's review
Jan 16, 2008

really liked it
Read in February, 2008

What a great premise for a work of historical fiction. Take a larger-than-life figure known to all, make him larger still, and overlay his story on top of one with little fame but deserving of more. The acclaimed character was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who turned out to be even more intriguing than his detective stories would suggest. From early days in Mam’s kitchen listening to chivalric tales of adventure, to heroics in sports and at war, Arthur liked thinking of himself as an honorable knight of the realm. Sherlock, if anything, is downplayed in this account while the events ultimately connecting Arthur to George are brought to the fore. Without tripping the spoiler alarm, I can say that George had a more stolid, less imaginative life growing up in a vicarage. His small bit of fame made quite a story, though. And thanks to Arthur, post-Victorian England came to know it. And thanks to Julian Barnes, we’ve come to know it, too.

Barnes made the telling seem so effortless. He evoked the more formal era, but in a readable way. What’s more, he gave the characters plausible words and thoughts. It was well researched, clearly, often using personal letters as sources. The only reason I take a star away from an otherwise fabulous book is that an extrapolation in George’s thoughts at the end didn’t ring true for me.

I strongly recommend 99.8% of this book, and I thank the astute Anglophile I married for recommending it to me.
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02/03/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-11 of 11) (11 new)

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message 1: by Cecily (new)

Cecily I've only read two Barnes so far: a very early one that was rather weak (Staring at the Sun), and his most recent (The Sense of an Ending), which was very good. As this is a fairly recent one, perhaps I should give him another chance.

Steve I liked The Sense of an Ending, too, but have writer's block in trying to review it. (I'll be looking to see if you've shared your thoughts on this one soon.)

Barnes was effective in this one in a way that I gather is not typical for him. He told the story in a rather straightforward, less writerly manner. It made for some great historical fiction, with a story that never seemed coerced.

message 3: by Cecily (new)

Cecily I have reviewed The Sense of an Ending, but having seen other people's reviews and discussed it in a book group, it does seem to be a book that generates quite strong opinions. Some people can't get over the fact they don't like the narrator.

Steve I've seen that same criticism. I can handle both unlikable and unreliable narrators as long as I can appreciate the internal logic of what makes them so. If I sense that they come to be as they are falsely, then I have less patience. Tony seemed OK to me -- he may not have been my favorite person in the world, but I thought Barnes drew him in a plausible, human way, with even a bit of empathy.

I'm going to your review now to see your thoughts on the matter.

message 5: by Gary (new) - added it

Gary  the Bookworm Catching-up on GR and this popped up. I seem to recall that you recommended it to me a while back. It's on my pile now (where great books go to die...)

Steve The book math (where the ratio of greatness to be had to time available to absorb it is well above one) can be depressing. Maybe the best counter is to always focus on the ones I say are good.

Helle Great review, Steve, and much less spoiler-ish than mine. I personally liked this novel much more than The Sense of an Ending, but I'm amazed that Barnes - usually such a minimalist (well, 'usually' based on what I've read by him) - was able to pull off this Victorian-Edwardian pastiche very successfully.

Steve I just read your own review, Helle, and thought that your summary seemed just right. Great point, too, about the pastiche from an earlier era. That can't be an easy thing for a writer to do.

Laysee A succinct and wonderful review, Steve, that sells the merits of this book so well. I agree that Barnes succeeded in a big way in getting us properly acquainted with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and through him, the less known George Edalji.

Steve Thanks, Laysee! I just read your own terrific review (along with your substantial spoiler) and am happy to see Barnes getting his due.

Ginny Weasly /Harry Potter I am 10 and i am from china

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