Heidi's Reviews > Arthur & George

Arthur & George by Julian Barnes
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's review
Dec 04, 2013

really liked it
bookshelves: historical-mystery, own-paperback, good-book-disappointing-ending, own-hardback, written-review
Read in January, 2009

What is better, a so-so book with a great ending, or a good book with a disappointing one? The latter for me, but I was let down, after enjoying this story all the way through, to have it end with such a whimper. Later I read that the story was true all the way, which did make me more understanding. It is about a miscarriage of justice in the early 20th century. George, a young solicitor of Indian origin, is falsely accused of killing a slew of horses in his area, and convicted. His defense is poor and both the police, legal establishment and jury is clearly racist. Later, after he has served his sentence but is prevented from going back to his profession, he appeals to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who enthusiastically takes up his case and gets him a pardon, though not as complete a one as a modern reader would like. We follow both Arthur and George from the beginning of their lives and become very attached to them as characters, which is why the lack of a ringing resolution is a let down. Also, various elements are not satisfactorily tied up, and the last scene is a kind of public seance that was held after Sir Arthur's death (he was a great believer in spiritualism, or spiritism, as he called it) and I couldn't figure out what it had to do with the main thrust of the book. But, as I said, that is a disadvantage of not being able to move away from facts. It was a wry, compassionate, often witty book and you come to care for the characters very much.
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