Arthur and George

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Overview

In the vast expanse of late-Victorian Britain, two boys come to life: George, the son of a Midlands vicar, and Arthur, in shabby genteel Edinburgh, both of them feeling at once near to and impossibly distant from the beating heart of Empire. One falls prey to a series of pranks en route to a legal vocation, while the other studies medicine before discovering a different calling entirely, and it is years before their destinies are entwined in a mesmerizing alliance. We follow each through outrageous accusation and...
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2006 Hard cover New in new dust jacket. Glued binding. Paper over boards. With dust jacket. 385 p. Audience: General/trade. "From one of England's most esteemed novelists, an ... utter astonishment that captures an era through one life celebrated internationally and another entirely forgotten. In the vast expanse of late-Victorian Britain, two boys come to life: George, the son of a Midlands vicar, and Arthur, in shabby genteel Edinburgh, both of them feeling at once near to and impossibly distant from the beating heart Read more Show Less

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Overview

In the vast expanse of late-Victorian Britain, two boys come to life: George, the son of a Midlands vicar, and Arthur, in shabby genteel Edinburgh, both of them feeling at once near to and impossibly distant from the beating heart of Empire. One falls prey to a series of pranks en route to a legal vocation, while the other studies medicine before discovering a different calling entirely, and it is years before their destinies are entwined in a mesmerizing alliance. We follow each through outrageous accusation and unrivaled success, through faith and perseverance and dogged self-recrimination, whether in the dock awaiting complete disgrace or at the height of fame while desperately in love with a woman not his wife, and gradually realize that George is half-Indian and that Arthur becomes the creator of the world's most famous detective. Ranging from London clubs to teeming prisons, from a lost century to the modern age, this novel is a panoramic revelation of things we thought we knew or else had no clue of, as well as a gripping exploration of what goals drive us toward whatever lies in wait - an experience resounding with issues, no less relevant today, of crime and spirituality; of identity and nationality; of what we think, what we believe and what we can prove.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The centerpiece of Julian Barnes’s Booker Prize-nominated novel is a real-life travesty of justice involving a wrongly imprisoned half-Indian solicitor named George Edalji and his defender, the celebrated writer Arthur Conan Doyle. In a style far less elliptical than his usual fare, Barnes reconstructs this incident through the reimagined lives of these two "unofficial Englishmen,", whose stories unfold in alternating chapters throughout the book. Yet even this “straightforward” historical novel contains plenty of the Barnesian twists we have all come to appreciate from the author of such postmodern masterpieces as Flaubert's Parrot and A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters.
Terrence Rafferty
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 and 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 … Arthur and George is finally about how Englishmen protect themselves from the heaviest emotional weather, what hard, lifelong work it is just to keep out the chill and the fog.
— The New York Times
Michael Dirda
Barnes's writing is, as usual, masterly throughout Arthur & George, not only as the pages shift from one man's consciousness to the other's but also in the way their author keeps the reader on edge. Facts are interpreted, then reinterpreted; the bigoted speak convincingly; nothing turns out quite as expected; and even the book's coda delivers a final shock.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Arthur is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, physician, sportsman, gentleman par excellence and the inventor of Sherlock Holmes; George is George Edalji, also a real, if less well-known person, whose path crossed not quite fatefully with the famous author's. Edalji was the son of a Parsi father (who was a Shropshire vicar), and a Scots mother. In 1903, George, a solicitor, was accused of writing obscene, threatening letters to his own family and of mutilating cattle in his farm community. He was convicted of criminal behavior in a blatant miscarriage of justice based on racial prejudice. Eventually, Sir Arthur ("Irish by ancestry, Scottish by birth") heard about George's case and began to advocate on his behalf. In this combination psychological novel, detective story and literary thriller, Barnes elegantly dissects early 20th-century English society as he spins this true-life story with subtle and restrained irony. Every line delivered by the many characters-the two principals, their school chums (Barnes sketches their early lives), their families and many incidentals-rings with import. His dramatization of George's trial, in particular, grinds with telling minutiae, and his portrait of Arthur is remarkably rich, even when tackling Doyle's spiritualist side. Shortlisted for the Booker, this novel about love, guilt, identity and honor is a triumph of storytelling, taking the form Barnes perfected in Flaubert's Parrot (1985) and stretching it yet again. 100,000 first printing; 8-city author tour. (Jan.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
As all Sherlockians know, in 1906 Arthur Conan Doyle took on the case of George Edalji, a reserved young lawyer, half Scottish and half Indian, who was wrongly accused of mutilating animals-and in the process helped set up Britain's Court of Appeals. Perhaps it is not so surprising that the author of Flaubert's Parrot would choose to reconstruct not just this case but the lives of both participants; what is surprising is the almost deadpan way he does it-and that his approach works so well. Barnes tells the life stories of Arthur and George with almost clinical precision, alternating between them from school age on. The storm gathers slowly; one learns the details of the mutilations and how the case was built so incongruously against the upright and deeply myopic George, even as Arthur is whiling away his time as famed writer and romancer of Miss Jean Leckie. The book picks up like a whirlwind when Arthur and George meet at last; and though a few early passages can seem a bit leisurely, it finally make powerful sense to see how these men arrived where they did. A beautifully modulated work; highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/1/05.]-Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-This novel tells the tale of two real men: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, and George Edalji, an English lawyer of Indian descent. Their lives crossed when Edalji asked Doyle for help following Edalji's unjust conviction for mutilating horses. The narrative moves toward that point, which is in many ways merely the framework that allows Barnes to develop the interior stories of two unusual figures in Victorian and Edwardian England. His Doyle is a latter-day knight-errant, with all the failings and foibles one might expect; Edalji is the model Englishman with an inherent faith in the legal system and race is something that he cannot imagine could matter. Barnes has created two fully realized characters, and readers cannot help but sympathize with them.-Ted Westervelt, Library of Congress, Washington, DC Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
British author Barnes's deeply satisfying tenth novel, based on a turn-of-the-century cause celebre. In 1906, Arthur Conan Doyle, the renowned creator of Sherlock Holmes, was roused to passionate indignation on behalf of a sedentary-and extremely near-sighted-lawyer named George Edalji, who was disbarred and imprisoned after being convicted of mutilating farm animals. Doyle's investigations-which lifted him out of the despondency occasioned by the death of his first wife-confirmed that the Edalji family had long been a target of police persecution. Doyle's widely read articles and petition to the Home Secretary offered new evidence of Edalji's innocence and suggested the identity of the actual criminal, resulting in the overturning of Edalji's conviction, his re-admission to the bar and the establishment of the Court of Criminal Appeal. As enthralling as Barnes's fictionalized account of these events is, with its satisfyingly morbid Victorian elements-the anonymous threats reprinted here verbatim, the dead birds strewn on the Edaljis' lawn, the vicar's odd practice of locking his son in his bedroom every night well into adulthood-detection is only one component of the novel. The author also respectfully narrates the parallel lives of two Victorian gentlemen: George Edalji, whose Apollonian downfall was to trust too much in the rationality of his fellow citizens; and Arthur Conan Doyle, who, when logic took him only so far, made the great Dionysian leap into spiritualism. Like his favorite writer, Flaubert, Barnes is a connoisseur of middle-class normalcy, which he chronicles with loving attention to the peculiarities of bourgeois life subsumed under its sheltering cloak of good order. Hispast novels have been praised for their brilliance but occasionally faulted for a dry style overburdened with detail. Here, with a mystery at the heart of the narrative, every detail is a potential, welcome clue. The precision of the style suits the decorum of the period and serves to underline the warm, impulsive generosity of Doyle's support, which saved an innocent man from ruin. A triumph. First printing of 100,000 copies
From the Publisher
“Extraordinary.... First rate.... A cracking good yarn.”
The New York Times Book Review

“An absorbing fictional re-creation of a real-life detective story. . . . A finely evocative historical novel as well as a morally and psychologically astute glimpse into the worlds of two men.”
Los Angeles Times Book Review

“Masterly throughout. . . . The author keeps the reader on edge.”
The Washington Post Book World

“Deeply satisfying. . . . From the first chapter, Barnes has us in his thrall.” –San Francisco Chronicle

“A page-turner.... Arthur & George is by far Mr. Barnes's most pressurized novel to date.” –The Wall Street Journal

“Utterly absorbing, beautifully crafted.... Rich and immensely readable.... A stream of flawless, driving sentences.... A great novel.” –O, The Oprah Magazine

“A marvelous book.” –Entertainment Weekly, “A”

“His most engrossing novel ever.” –Jay McInerney, The New York Observer

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307263100
  • Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/10/2006
  • Pages: 400
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Julian Barnes is the author of nine novels, including Metroland, Flaubert's Parrot, A History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters, England, England and Arthur and George, and two collections of short stories, Cross Channel and The Lemon Table.

Biography

Julian Barnes once told London's Observer that he writes fiction "to tell beautiful, exact, and well-constructed lies which enclose hard and shimmering truths." Indeed, this is what Barnes does, sometimes spiking his lies with fact -- most notably in Flaubert's Parrot, the novel that became his breakthrough book. The story of a retired doctor obsessed with the French author, it combines a literary detective story with a character study of its detective, including facts about Flaubert along the way.

Before Flaubert's Parrot propelled him into the company of Ian McEwan and Martin Amis in British authordom, Barnes had been moderately successful with the novels Metroland (which later became the 1997 movie starring Emily Watson and Christian Bale) and Before She Met Me. He was also known to Brits as a newspaper TV critic. Parrot and Barnes's subsequent "Letters from London" in The New Yorker helped expand the author's Stateside following.

"A lot of novelists set up a kind of franchise, and turn out a familiar product," friend and fellow author Jay McInerney told the Guardian in 2000. "But what I like about Jules's work is that he's like an entrepreneur who starts up a new company every time out." Among other ambitious themes, Barnes has explored the collapse of communism (The Porcupine) the Disneyfication of culture (England, England), the simple dynamics of relationships (Talking It Over and its sequel, Love, Etc.), and the connections between art, religion, and death (The History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters).

Barnes has also produced collections of essays, a translation of Alphonse Daudet's In the Land of Pain, and a family memoir (Nothing to Be Frightened Of) that also serves as a meditation on mortality.

Good To Know

In 2000, a cybersquatting professor acquired the Internet rights to julianbarnes.com and several other authors' domain names; Barnes later won his name back, and the domain is now an informational site run by a fan with Barnes's permission. Barnes had protested the professor's actions, accusing him of usurpation; but his opponent might have responded by quoting from Barnes's own (albeit satirical) England, England: "Indeed, wasn't there something old-fashioned about the whole concept of ownership, or rather its acquisition by formal contract, in which title is received in exchange for consideration given?.... It would have been unfair to call Sir Jack Pitman a barbarian, though some did; but there stirred within him a longing to revisit pre-classical, pre-bureaucratic methods of acquiring ownership. Methods such as theft, conquest and pillage, for example."

Barnes wrote four mystery novels under the pseudonym Dan Kavanagh, all of which are now out of print; the novels starred Duffy, a bisexual ex–police officer. Kavanagh's bio read in part: "Having devoted his adolescence to truancy, venery and petty theft, he left home at seventeen and signed on as a deckhand on a Liberian tanker." Kavanagh also happens to be the last name of Barnes's agent and wife, Pat.

Barnes was a deputy literary editor under Martin Amis at the New Statesman from 1980–82 and was also a lexicographer for the Oxford English Dictionary. Amis and Barnes later had a falling-out that became fodder for the press when Amis wrote about it in his memoir, Experience; Barnes is mum on the subject, but the disagreement arose when Amis defected from Barnes's wife to another agent.

Barnes has a cameo in the film Bridget Jones's Diary as himself, but in a lesser role than he has in Helen Fielding's book. In the book, Bridget is flummoxed upon encountering Barnes and embarrasses herself; but the more recognizable Salman Rushdie was substituted for Barnes in the film version.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Dan Kavanagh
    2. Hometown:
      London, England
    1. Date of Birth:
      January 19, 1946
    2. Place of Birth:
      Leicester, England
    1. Education:
      Degree in modern languages from Magdalen College, Oxford, 1968

Read an Excerpt

Arthur & George


By Julian Barnes

Random House

Julian Barnes
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0679314172


Chapter One

one

Beginnings

Arthur


A child wants to see. It always begins like this, and it began like this then. A child wanted to see.

He was able to walk, and could reach up to a door handle. He did this with nothing that could be called a purpose, merely the instinctive tourism of infancy. A door was there to be pushed; he walked in, stopped, looked. There was nobody to observe him; he turned and walked away, carefully shutting the door behind him.

What he saw there became his first memory. A small boy, a room, a bed, closed curtains leaking afternoon light. By the time he came to describe it publicly, sixty years had passed. How many internal retellings had smoothed and adjusted the plain words he finally used? Doubtless it still seemed as clear as on the day itself. The door, the room, the light, the bed, and what was on the bed: a 'white, waxen thing'.

A small boy and a corpse: such encounters would not have been so rare in the Edinburgh of his time. High mortality rates and cramped circumstances made for early learning. The household was Catholic, and the body that of Arthur's grandmother, one Katherine Pack. Perhaps the door had been deliberately left ajar. There might have been a desire to impress upon the child the horror of death; or, more optimistically, to show him that death was nothing to be feared. Grandmother's soul had clearly flown up to Heaven, leaving behind only the sloughed husk of her body. The boy wants to see? Then let the boy see.

An encounter in a curtained room. A small boy and a corpse. A grandchild who, by the acquisition of memory, had just stopped being a thing, and a grandmother who, by losing those attributes the child was developing, had returned to that state. The small boy stared; and over half a century later the adult man was still staring. Quite what a 'thing' amounted to -- or, to put it more exactly, quite what happened when the tremendous change took place, leaving only a 'thing' behind -- was to become of central importance to Arthur.

George

George does not have a first memory, and by the time anyone suggests that it might be normal to have one, it is too late. He has no recollection obviously preceding all others -- not of being picked up, cuddled, laughed at or chastised. He has an awareness of once having been an only child, and a knowledge that there is now Horace as well, but no primal sense of being disturbingly presented with a brother, no expulsion from paradise. Neither a first sight, nor a first smell: whether of a scented mother or a carbolicy maid-of-all-work.

He is a shy, earnest boy, acute at sensing the expectations of others. At times he feels he is letting his parents down: a dutiful child should remember being cared for from the first. Yet his parents never rebuke him for this inadequacy. And while other children might make good the lack -- might forcibly install a mother's doting face or a father's supporting arm in their memories -- George does not do so. For a start, he lacks imagination. Whether he has never had one, or whether its growth has been stunted by some parental act, is a question for a branch of psychological science which has not yet been devised. George is fully capable of following the inventions of others -- the stories of Noah's Ark, David and Goliath, the Journey of the Magi -- but has little such capacity himself.

He does not feel guilty about this, since his parents do not regard it as a fault in him. When they say that a child in the village has 'too much imagination', it is clearly a term of dispraise. Further up the scale are 'tellers of tall stories' and 'fibbers'; by far the worst is the child who is 'a liar through and through' -- such are to be avoided at all costs. George himself is never urged to speak the truth: this would imply that he needs encouragement. It is simpler than this: he is expected to tell the truth because at the Vicarage no alternative exists.

'I am the way, the truth and the life': he is to hear this many times on his father's lips. The way, the truth and the life. You go on your way through life telling the truth. George knows that this is not exactly what the Bible means, but as he grows up this is how the words sound to him.

Arthur

For Arthur there was a normal distance between home and church; but each place was filled with presences, with stories and instructions. In the cold stone church where he went once a week to kneel and pray, there was God and Jesus Christ and the Twelve Apostles and the Ten Commandments and the Seven Deadly Sins. Everything was very orderly, always listed and numbered, like the hymns and the prayers and the verses of the Bible.

He understood that what he learned there was the truth; but his imagination preferred the different, parallel version he was taught at home. His mother's stories were also about far distant times, and also designed to teach him the distinction between right and wrong. She would stand at the kitchen range, stirring the porridge, tucking her hair back behind her ears as she did so; and he would wait for the moment when she would tap the stick against the pan, pause, and turn her round, smiling face towards him. Then her grey eyes would hold him, while her voice made a moving curve in the air, swooping up and down, then slowing almost to a halt as she reached the part of the tale he could scarcely endure, the part where exquisite torment or joy awaited not just hero and heroine, but the listener as well.

'And then the knight was held over the pit of writhing snakes, which hissed and spat as their twining lengths ensnared the whitening bones of their previous victims . . .'

'And then the black-hearted villain, with a hideous oath, drew a secret dagger from his boot and advanced towards the defenceless . . .'

'And then the maiden took a pin from her hair and the golden tresses fell from the window, down, down, caressing the castle walls until they almost reached the verdant grass on which he stood . . .'

Arthur was an energetic, headstrong boy who did not easily sit still; but once the Mam raised her porridge stick he was held in a state of silent enchantment -- as if a villain from one of her stories had slipped a secret herb into his food. Knights and their ladies then moved about the tiny kitchen; challenges were issued, quests miraculously fulfilled; armour clanked, chain mail rustled, and honour was always upheld.


Excerpted from Arthur & George by Julian Barnes Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions From the Publisher
1. One of the first things we learn about George is that "For a start, he lacks imagination" (4). George is deeply attached to the facts, while early in life Arthur discovers the "essential connection between narrative and reward" (12). How does this temperamental difference determine their approaches to life? Does Barnes use Arthur and George to explore the very different attractions of truth telling and storytelling?

2. What qualities does the Mam encourage in Arthur? How does Arthur's upbringing compare with George's? What qualities are encouraged in George by his parents? What does the novel imply about one's parents as a determinant in character development?

3. To what degree do George's parents try to overlook or deny the social difficulties their mixed marriage has produced for themselves and their children? Are they admirable in their determination to ignore the racial prejudice to which they are subjected?

4. Critic Peter Kemp has commented on Julian Barnes's interest in fiction that "openly colonises actuality-especially the lives of creative prodigies" (London Times, 26 June 2005). In Arthur & George, the details we read about Arthur's life are largely true. While the story of George Edalji is an obscure chapter of Doyle's life, its details as presented here are also based on the historical record. What is the effect, for the reader, when an author blurs the line between fiction and biography, or fiction and history?

5. From early on in a life shaped by stories, Arthur has identified with tales of knights: "If life was a chivalric quest, then he had rescued the fair Touie, he had conquered the city, and been rewarded with gold. . . . What did a knight errant do when he came home to a wife and two children in South Norwood?" (60). Is it common to find characters like Arthur in our own day? How have the ideas of masculinity changed between Edwardian times and the present?

6. George has trouble believing that he was a victim of race prejudice (235). Why is this difficult for him to believe? Is it difficult for him to imagine that others don't see him as he sees himself? Does George's misfortune seem to be juxtaposed ironically with his family's firm belief in the Christian faith?

7. The small section on pages 79-80, called "George & Arthur" describes an unnamed man approaching a horse in a field on a cold night. What is the effect of this section, coming into the novel when it does, and named as it is?

8. Inspector Campbell tells Captain Anson that the man who did the mutilations would be someone who was "accustomed to handling animals" (84); this assumption would clearly rule out George. Yet George is pursued as the single suspect. Campbell also notes that Sergeant Upton is neither intelligent nor competent at his job (86). What motivates Campbell as he examines George's clothing and his knife, and proceeds to have George arrested (102-7)?

9. George's lawyer, Mr. Meek, is amused at George's sense of outrage when he reads the factual errors and outright lies in the newspapers' reports of his case (119-20; 122-23). Why is Mr. Meek not more sympathetic?

10. George's arrest for committing "the Great Wyrley Outrages" (153) causes a sensation in England just a few years following the sensational killing spree of Jack the Ripper that sold millions of newspapers throughout England. Are the newspapers, and the public appetite for sensational stories, partly responsible for the crime against George Edalji?

11. How does Barnes convey the feeling of the historical period of which he writes? What details and stylistic effects are noticeable?

12. England was extremely proud of its legal system; Queen Victoria had expressed her outrage against the injustice in the trumped-up case against Alfred Dreyfus, which had occurred a few years earlier in France. Yet the Edalji case seems to present an even greater outrage against justice, and again because of the race of the accused. Why might the Home Office have refused to pay damages to Edalji?

13. For nine years, Arthur carries on a chaste love affair with Jean Leckie. Yet he feels miserable after the death of his wife Touie, particularly when he learns from his daughter Mary that Touie assumed that Arthur would remarry (215-17). Why is Arthur thrown into "the great Grimpen Mire" by his freedom to marry Jean (220)? Why does he believe that "if Touie knew, then he was destroyed" (267)? Has he, as he fears, behaved dishonorably to both women? What does the dilemma do to his sense of personal honor?

14. Why is the real perpetrator of the animal killings never identified? In a Sherlock Holmes story the criminal is always caught and convicted, but Doyle gets no such satisfaction with this real world case. How disturbing is the fact that Edalji is never truly vindicated and never compensated for the injustice he suffered? Does Barnes's fictional enlargement of George Edalji's life act as a kind of compensation?

15. Arthur & George presents a world that seems less evolved than our own in its assumptions about race and human nature, and justice and evidence, as well as in its examples of human innocence and idealism. Does this world seem so remote in time as to be, in a sense, unbelievable? Or might American readers recognize a similar situation in a story like Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, or more recent news stories about racial injustice?

16. The story ends with George's attendance at the memorial service for Arthur. What is most moving about this episode?

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Sort by: Showing all of 15 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Fantastic

    In 1903, solicitor George Edalji is arrested and convicted of mutilating cattle and other farm animals as well as writing threatening letters. He is sent to prison and disbarred from practicing law.----- In 1906 Arthur Conan Doyle still grieves the loss of his beloved life when he learns of the case that some claim is the result of racism. He does a perfunctory review and quickly learns that police and others have harassed the Edalji family before the arrest and apparently continue to do so. He digs deeper as the investigation helps him out of his morbid funk until he concludes that the extremely near-sighted George, who can barely see and was obviously a logical rational person, could not have committed these atrocious acts. Doyle begins a campaign to free George and get him reinstated as a lawyer.------ This is a terrific fictionalized account of a real event as Doyle actually undertook a campaign to free the imprisoned Edalji. The investigation grips the audience who will receive a taste of Edwardian England¿s darker societal practices as much as insight into the two lead characters. Readers will understand how the intelligent George became a victim and how Arthur turned to spiritualism when logic especially that of his society failed him. The details make this a fabulous historical fiction that will shock the audience with its equivalency to the Emile Zola-Dreyfus Affair.----- Harriet Klausner

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2006

    In the middle of it right now....

    I would have to say the story is both engaging and inspiring. I picked this book up in London two months ago. It has taken me some time to read it due to other obligations. It has kept me up for the past two evenings. Believe me, if it keeps me up to read, then it holds my interest. Do not miss this excellent piece of literature.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 13, 2010

    Julian Barnes is in my opinion an excellent storyteller.

    This is not a ho-hum story. The author has used the uncommon style of telling the two main characters' stories simultaneously, thereby keeping the reader intimately involved in their personalities, vital to understanding the ending.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 29, 2013

    Recommended

    I enjoyed Arthur & George very much. It is well written, and while speculative, is justifiably so. The use of actual letters and newspaper articles in the course of the narrative lends credibility to the elements that Barnes must have imagined. Recommended.

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