Monday, February 20, 2006

Arthur and George by Julian Barnes

Julian Barnes' latest novel, Arthur and George, was published at the end of last year. After reading a review in my favorite magazine (Entertainment Weekly), I anxiously awaited the arrival at the local library. I believe I was the first one to check out this new book.

Barnes gathered actual newspaper clippings, letters, journals, etc. about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (author of the beloved Sherlock Holmes series), and in particular collected the writings about Doyle coming to the aid of a wrongly convicted Englishman, George. The story tells of these two individuals, Arthur and George, from boyhood until Arthur's death. The stories of these two men only intersected for a short while - thus the book deals with individual lives for the most part. There is an interesting twist in the life story of George - a twist George refused to acknowledge, but that Arthur knew was of great importance.

Barnes weaves a very interesting piece of historical fiction. He uses actual events and writings, but is very clear about what is conjecture and invention on his part (please pay attention, James Frey). The characters he creates are memorable - however near or far they are to reality. Barnes uses language beautifully, and the worlds he creates are fresh, full and real. The story of Arthur is especially rich and interesting. I could not wait to turn the page and discover where his life would lead. Even when Arthur was dealing with middle-aged malaise, it was still a compelling story. I had more difficulty relating to George - or even being that interested in his story. He is nowhere near as interesting a person or has such a full life as Arthur. It felt like Arthur were really the main character, and that George -instead of being equal in billing - was really one of the bit players in the life of Arthur. I was sympathetic for George, but had difficulty identifying with his character. I found myself reading quickly through much of his life story and wishing that it would go faster - just so I could get back to the story of Arthur. That said, I appreciated the technique Barnes used in creating this story and the interaction of these two men's lives.

Overall, it is a well written book, with an interesting story - even though the interest is primarily in one character. I definitely recommend a read - especially for anyone who has enjoyed Sherlock Holmes over the years. My grade - B

No comments: