Monday, 15 November 2010

Arthur and George by Julian Barnes

A pleasant suprise, this. I picked it pretty much at random from the audiobook section of the library and it had my hooked all the way through.

Again, it's based on real people and events. If you're going to make something up, stick it in space I say. It's the story of two men - George, who's a solicitor of Indian descent who gets accused of some horrific crimes (the mysterious but strangely popular phenomenon of horse ripping, as well as a bizarre campaign of hate) and Sir Arthur Conan Dolyle who...well, hell, you know who HE is .

In the early 20th century Doyle got involved in the George Ediljay case and publicised it as a big miscarriage of justice. The legal parts of this book I found fascinating. In fact the case led the foundation of the Court of Appeal. It also reminds me of Robert Graysmith's Zodiac, in that it examines lots of different angles and red herrings with plenty of loose ends and few hard conclusions. Lots of folk hate this kind of thing. I love it.

But there's lots more going here - it follows both Arthur and George from cradle to grave and both come across as interesting, admirable, flawed and above all human. Doyle's spiritualism is dealt with at length, and includes a massive seance held at Albert Hall after his death with shows the esoteric glamour, the emotional impact and the base quakery of this lost religion.

It's also really good on race. George is certainly victimised, but it's far from clear that the colour of his skin has anything to do with it. This is still the England of Empire - a massively different world to the one we live in, and one which may not have been as racist as we imagine. A very intelligent and subtle examination of these issues going on.

Finally - very well written, easy to read, always entertaining. A lucky find, and a good excuse to dig out some Sherlock Holmes short stories from my bookshelf.

No comments: