Steve's Reviews > Arthur & George

Arthur & George by Julian Barnes
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Feb 08, 08

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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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 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.


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