Emily (whatisbiscuits) wrote in bookish,

Arthur & George by Julian Barnes

Arthur & George by Julian Barnes tells the story of two boys. Arthur grows up reading adventure stories in Edinburgh, one of a large family. His mam tells him stories of chivalry and romance as she stirs the porridge; his father is an artist and drunkard. George grows up in the Vicarage of the small Staffordshire village of Great Wyrley. He is a shy, short sighted boy who fails to make friends with the local boys, who are sons of farmers and colliers.

As the two boys grow up Arthur becomes increasingly successful, first as a doctor and then as a famous writer, his easy wit making him popular in Victorian literary circles. Yet privately his life is blighted by two problems: his wife is slowly dying from consumption, and he has fallen in love with another woman.

Meanwhile George is stuggling with a very different difficulty. Professionally he has done well, passing his solicitors examinations with honours and publishing a pamphlet, Railway Law for the "Man in the Train". But the sequence of events which makes headlines in the papers as The Great Wyrley Outrages is underway. Threatening letters are posted to the Vicarage and mutilated horses found bleeding to death around the village, their bellies slit with a sharp instrument during the night. The letters grow increasingly terrifying, climaxing with a warning that there "will be merry times at Wyrley in November, when they start on little girls".

The police suspect George, who is after all not only the focus of the letters but also odd-looking and half Indian - doesn't a mixing of the blood produce a tendency to revert to barbarism? Soon the Great Wyrley Outrages bring the lives of Arthur and George together, as the great detective writer turns detective on George's behalf.

I found this book fascinating, but a little padded out at 505 pages long. There is plenty about Arthur's interest in Spiritualism, which like most of his family, I do not share. Perhaps too much about his romantic problems too, which interesting though they were, I thought distracted from the main story. The way in which the book switches between Arthur and George's points of view is very clever, and I felt I really understood the frustrations and fears George was feeling. He wanted to be free to live a quiet life, practicing law, going for evening walks around the village and perhaps moving to Birmingham and getting married, but this was not to be. This was my first Julian Barnes book and I may try another one now.

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