George Edalji is an ardent advocate of the English system of law. So when he is accused and subsequently jailed for the mutilation of farm animals in Staffordshire, it is more than an injustice—it is a test of faith. In fact he seems unable to believe that his imprisonment could have anything to do with his Indian surname. By post he entreats Arthur Conan Doyle, famed creator of Sherlock Holmes, to help him prove his innocence. Doyle, suffering from the death of his wife, finds a welcome distraction in the case. Much more than a mystery or a splash of historical fiction, Arthur & George reaches back to its eponymous characters’ very different childhoods to create a layered tale steeped in injustice, friendship, and belief.
Knopf. 388 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 030726310X
Los Angeles Times
"Arthur & George is an ambitious undertaking: a portrait of two lives, a window on an era and an urgent, eternally relevant tale about human verities. Barnes gives us not just an absorbing fictional re-creation of a real-life detective story but also an affirmation and celebration of the search for truth and justice. His book is a finely evocative historical novel as well as a morally and psychologically astute glimpse into the worlds of two men." Merle Rubin
NY Times Book Review
"Julian Barnes has written a deeply English novel, in the grand manner, about the sorts of existential questions the English on the whole prefer to leave to the French. Arthur & George conceals its contemplation of the imponderables slyly, discreetly hiding it behind the curtains while scenes of Dickensian force and color play out in firelit rooms." Terrence Rafferty
Wall Street Journal
"Arthur & George accomplishes more than opening up the lives of two men drawn into a system’s cruel machinery. The book shows how essential, and difficult, it is to imagine the pain that the law can inflict." John Freeman
"Barnes’s artistry underscores that these two proper gentlemen are both, in fact, victimized by the systems they admire most—the law and chivalry. Together, they are nonetheless able to redeem lives wracked by hopelessness and frustration." Michael Dirda
"[The novel] suffers from its own excesses: too much information, particularly in the last half of the novel, about local color and the specificities of Edwardian England. Let’s just say it succumbs to a form of literary gout." Gail Caldwell
New York Times
"Though Arthur & George is smoothly written and professionally assembled, it’s a ponderous performance—crammed full of historical research and re-creations of period details and overstuffed with evidence relating to George’s legal case. … The reader doesn’t experience the thrill of putting together clues—the way one does when reading a good detective story—but instead feels bombarded by a blizzard of boring bits of data." Michiko Kakutani
Always the bridesmaid, never the bride; short-listed again for the 2005 Booker Prize (Barnes’s third such honor), Barnes sets aside the postmodern tricks of his most famous works (Flaubert’s Parrot; A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters) to write a fairly straightforward novel based on the famous 1906 Edalji case. It didn’t win him the Booker, but Arthur & George has critics on this side of the Atlantic astir with praise. From his seamless narrative techniques to his "elegant prose" (Hartford Courant), most reviewers find little to fault. The few detractors take issue with the surplus of period detail and Barnes’s straying too far from the conventions of Doyle’s famous sleuth. Though this opinion is not stated directly, the general tone of most of the reviews confirms Arthur & George as Barnes’s best work yet.
Also by the Author
A History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters (1989): A set of linked stories, beginning with the tale of a woodworm stowaway on Noah’s ark. From there: a hijacking on a cruise ship, a woman on a raft trying to escape radioactive fallout, and more. Perhaps history is not a set of patterns but simply a series of random connections.