Arthur and George by Julian Barnes
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Difficulty: it was a real live novel folks; I actually had to read it.
Time to completion: about a week- a few days to get into in and then nonstop for about a day and a half, whenever I had the time.
Rating: twenty million stars out of 10. Yes, that many.
This beautiful book, recommended to me by a beloved friend of mine, is one of the best books I have ever read. It’s about two men- Arthur and George- and how their lives reflect the kind of men that they are in the world they are forced to live in. Neither is particularly happy with their respective world, but each forges a life that is a direct picture of his identity.
Arthur grows up in a not unhappy family situation, but a poor one, and resolves to rescue his mother and siblings one day by becoming very successful, which he does after training as a doctor, but finding his place as an author. George grows up the son of a vicar in the countryside, shy, but smart, and becomes a local solicitor. Possible spoiler, but one you’ll find out if you read the back cover of the book, so try very hard to avoid it if you want to be totally surprised. Otherwise, highlight this blank spot:
What we find out is that Arthur is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, our very favorite mystery writer who invents the eternally famous Sherlock Holmes, who haunts him for the rest of his life. George is the son of a Parsee vicar and his Scottish wife, raising the question of prejudice and its place in turn of the century England. This book is based on a true story. But it is also a novel. It is a majestic, astonishingly well-researched story of these two men, drawing on newspaper articles, reports, letters, and the papers of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I found that bit out at the end, so I’m counting it as a spoiler. Also, I loved that the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle I made up in my mind while reading Sherlock Holmes seemed to coincide so well with the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle of the book.
While life happens to both George and Arthur, George gets it harder and hits a rough spot, which eventually Arthur becomes involved in, and so goes the story.
The writing in this book is beyond words. I think it works against the author and the reader a little bit at the beginning, where it seems a bit slow, but later you come to realize that it must be that way because without those fifty pages, the book wouldn’t mean nearly as much as it does. It is so well researched that you can’t help but fall right into it and not even realize you haven’t come up for air for hours.
Go, read this book. Now, please.