Friday, September 26, 2014

Arthur and George, by Julian Barnes

Staff Review by Chris Saliba

Julian Barnes's fictional account of a shocking true crime from around the turn of the century is a triumph of the imagination and a great entertainment.

Julian Barnes’s 2005 novel Arthur and George is a fictionalised account of a true British crime from the turn of the 20th century. The two characters of the title are very different. Arthur is famous, one of the big men of the age, while George achieves an unfortunate notoriety when he would rather remain anonymous. The two men’s lives come together when George appeals to Arthur for help.

George Edalji was a half Indian solicitor and son of a vicar. His mother was Scottish. The family were the victim’s of an anonymous letter writing campaign that created all sorts of terrible stress for them. In 1903 a series of animal "slashings" - horses, sheep and cows - took place in the parish of Great Wyrley. During these animal mutilations the creatures were "ripped" - slashed through their underbelly. The eighth attack was on a pony. George Edalji was charged with the crime, even though it was painfully obvious that he was innocent.

Enter Arthur Conan Doyle, the brilliant and relentlessly energetic creator of Sherlock Holmes. Edalji seeks out the famous author to help him clear his name. Surely there can be no one better suited to the task.

This novel is a great triumph. Barnes so expertly draws the two characters of George and Arthur that you feel like you’re there with them every step of the way. The dialogue is especially wonderful, with Barnes capturing two distinct personalities with every intonation, pause and emphasis - it’s almost musical. The story is also tightly strung with a lot of suspense, making it read as a great entertainment.

Arthur and George, by Julian Barnes. Published by Vintage Classics. ISBN: 9780099492733  RRP: $19.99

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