Sunday, 22 March 2015

Arthur and George - Julian Barnes

photo courtesy:book
The book justifies the author's fame as a great writer.

I got to the book after ITV telecast a 3 part series based on the novel. The first two episodes were so gripping that I couldn't wait till the third week. I walked down to my nearest library, picked up the book and read on to find out what happened in the end.

However I was mindful of the fact that the series had mentioned that it was based on the novel and therefore was aware that the TV ending can be a bit different. But I wanted to see how the author had visualised the story and was happy to see that the TV did justice to the story, well the first half atleast.


In the 1900s there was a series of cattle killings in Straffordshire. The police is feeling the pressure to nab the culprit but have failed. Then the newspapers then announce that a parsi man, George Edalji has been caught and is tried for the crime. The son of a vicar, who is studying to be a solicitor seems like an unlikely person to commit the crime. He protests and claims innocence but the evidence is strong and he is sentenced to prison. Years later, he comes out of jail and seeks help from Arthur Conan Doyle to clear his name.

Doyle who is going through his own personal crisis, that of losing his wife, takes up the case and decides to get to the truth of it.

The story is a study of these two gentlemen, how the case affects their lives, their personalities and the reason for the case, an insight into the society of the time and their prejudices.

What works:
  • PD James has endorsed the book on its jacket by saying that right from the first few lines, you can ascertain the quality of the book.  Although she is one of my favourite authors, I have to admit she is right when she says that. 
  • The writing is simple, clear yet the description of Doyle and childhoods of Arthur and George cannot be more contrasting.
  • The incisive observation while adding to the storyline is very good and engaging and I realised that I just flew through the pages.
  • I also loved the way Holmes always stalks Doyle whereever he goes and how much of Doyle is inhabited by Holmes or viceversa. The comparison is subtle yet blatant when Doyle's methods clash with the flamboyant Holmes.
What doesn't:
  • There is no obvious conclusion here unlike the TV series. It is more of a reflection of a prejudiced bureaucratic society and a study of how lives must have been difficult for immigrants back in the 1900s.
A great book. Highly recommended. But if you have already seen the ITV series don't go expecting a similar conclusion. The ending goes beyond what the TV series opted for. 

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