Arthur and George by Julian Barnes

About the book

Arthur and George grow up worlds apart in late nineteenth-century Britain: Arthur in shabby-genteel Edinburgh, George in the vicarage of a small Staffordshire village. Arthur is to become one of the most famous men of his age, while George remains in hard-working obscurity. But as the new century begins, they are brought together by a sequence of events that made sensational headlines at the time as The Great Wyrley Outrages. This is a novel about low crime and high spirituality, guilt and innocence, identity, nationality and race. Most of all it is a profound and moving meditation on the fateful differences between what we believe, what we know and what we can prove.

Reviewed by Wallington Village Reading Group:

Slow start. took a while to get into it. Interesting middle, disappointing end as if the author didn’t know how to finish it. Enjoyable as it was factual easy to read style. Very interesting turn of phrase and vocabulary in the style of a Sherlock Holmes. Believable characters.

Star rating: ***

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16 thoughts on “Arthur and George by Julian Barnes”

  1. Review by The Laurels Reading Group:
    The group were divided over this book. All agreed it was a well written story and recognised it as a ‘better class’ read. We had sympathy for George and his unimaginative life and appreciated the contrast between him and Arthur. We felt many issues were unresolved.
    Star rating: ***

  2. Review by Selborne Book Circle Reading group:
    The majority of the group enjoyed this book, and it aroused some good discussion arising from both characters and plot. One dissenting voice was from a member reliant on audio book, who found the split narrative confusing, but generally it was considered to be a worthwhile read.
    Star rating: ***

  3. Review by In-Sync Reading Group:
    Interesting book, based on well researched facts. A bit long on detail. Some were disappointed the ‘case’ wasn’t solved, others thought that was unimportant. Generally enjoyed.
    Star rating: ***

  4. Review by Kings Somborne Reading Group:
    Interesting start alternating from one character (ordinary man) to the other (great man). Well written with elegant prose very evocative of the age. Middle section a page turner but ending unsatisfactorily and inconclusive. Themes of race, immigrants and their children explored as well as Britishness and spirituality. The Victorian obsessions with death and morality and how the two characters coped when faced with these problems also explored.
    Star rating: ***

  5. Review by Gosport Bookworms:
    Almost all of the group enjoyed this book and the way in which Barnes draws us into the minds and characters of the two men, both of them outsiders in their different ways. Although a little difficult to get into, eventually we all found it a fascinating read and an insight into Victorian mores and ethics.
    Star rating: ****

  6. Review by Enjoying Books Reading Group:
    A fascinating insight into the period – social prejudices. Very well researched novel – we though that we learnt a great deal about the time. A different book than usual – written in a clever way. Long winded in parts.
    Star rating: ***

  7. Review by October Book Club:
    Excellent storytelling and characterisation. The plot line is skillfully woven and the story has topical interest.
    Star rating: ****

  8. Review Southampton U3A Reading Group:
    Everyone enjoyed this book. It was researched thoroughly and was accurate in every respect, regarding Arthur Conan Doyle and in particular the infamous Edalji case. A brilliant read.
    Star rating: ***

  9. Review by Hawkley Reading Group:
    Enjoyed by the majority; a few members would have preferred a ‘non fiction’ of this interesting case. Other members liked the stately Edwardian period appropriate style – though found it slow in places. Overall thought provoking in a gentle way.
    Star rating: ***

  10. Review by Shipton Bellinger WI Reading Group:
    Superbly written. Describes a miscarriage of justice at the turn of the 19th Century and Conan Doyle’s attempts to right the wrong. A tale of prejudice, ‘our blood boiled’.
    Star rating: ****

  11. Review by Anton Bookies Reading Group:
    The novel had a slow start, and took some time to get into. But it was well worth persisting. We all thought it well written, in fact one of the best books we have read this year, and one which generated a very enjoyable meeting.
    Star rating: ****

  12. Review Boater’s Book Club:
    Many found the beginning unenjoyable especially because they got the characters mixed up. Some found it verbose, overwritten, dull with too many ideas some of which were unsatisfied. The spiritualism, racism, evidence, Maud, police attitude, injustice, bullying, horse issues, George’s prison experiences, the Parsee background and the mixed marriage background and their outcomes were all commented on and fuelled the discussion. Also commented on was that Arthur and George had a relationship at all, with their differing characters and backgrounds. It was considered strange the way they came together. Their characters were commented on: Arthur with his attitude to love (wife and mistress) and George with his separateness (we thought he could have been autistic and socially inept) and affected by his mixed race but an interesting character and a vehicle for Arthur. It was felt there was a need to remember the time in which the book was set and that it should also be remembered that Arthur Conan Doyle was to some extent founder of how crime is handled in today’s detective fiction and as a result also that Court of Criminal Appeal exists.
    Star rating: **

  13. Review by Monday, Monday Book Club:
    There were no strong views about this book, it was generally enjoyed but members felt that they had got nothing out of it. One had even read it before but not remembered it until part-way through. As it is based on an actual case, we wondered “What was the point of writing the book?”, and agreed that it would have been more engaging had we not known about the case in advance.
    The characters were interesting, both felt themselves to be superior to others (it should be sub-titled “Pride and Prejudice”), the main difference being George’s acceptance of events compared to Arthur’s panic. The Edjali family were insistent on Englishness, and would not accept the possibility of racial prejudice contributing to the attacks on the family’s good name. George appeared as if he might have Asperger’s Syndrome, as he said what he thought – apparently without regard for how it might be received. This added to his “otherness”, which made him a target.
    The police activities came across like something from a Tom Sharpe satirical novel – from a 21st century angle it was difficult to take them seriously, or to believe their attitudes. Was this naivety on our part?
    Rating: 4 Stars

  14. Review by Itchen Reading Group
    The book is concerned with George, a respectable mixed race solicitor whi is accused of maiming animals in the parish where is father is vicar. He asked Arthur Conan Doyle the clear his name. The novel is based on a real like event and has been well researched by the author. It gives a very detailed account of what happened and some insight into Conan Doyle’s life. Well worth the effort of reading this soemtimes difficult book.
    *** – **** 3 to 4 stars

  15. Review by Tuesday Morning
    Many people couldn’t finish this book. Some people who did finish did enjoy it. There was generally a mixed reaction but the consensus was it was slow.
    Star rating *

  16. REview by Fareham 5:30 Reading Group
    A mixed reception – we liked parts of the story, especially that of George. We weren’t really sure why the author had written this – it seemed to be about evidence and facts. A good evocation of the period. 3 stars

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