Sunday, July 16, 2006

Arthur and George

Let me recommend 'Arthur and George' by Julian Barnes, one of the great reads this summer. Arthur is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, famous throughout the world, not only as a man of letters, but as a sportsman: alpine skier, fisherman, cricketer, tennis player - name your sport, he excelled. George is George Edalji, an obscure Birmingham solicitor interested in railway law, the son of a Parsee vicar and Scottish mother, who is accused of sending himself and his parents a series of unpleasant and times disgusting anonymous letters and then running a gang of horse mutilators in the country village where he lodges with his parents. George is found guilty and sentenced to eight years penal servitude.

Arthur takes up his case, acting out the role of the Great Detective.

This is faction. The story is true, but all the interaction between the characters is imagined. It is an important case because it led to the establishment of the Courts of Appeal; before this any one who believed himself falsely convicted could only petition the Home Secretary for a pardon, which was seldom given.

But this is not only a famous legal case; the book opens up the complex character of Conan Doyle. Here is a secret Victorian love story. Here is prejudice, but is it racial or class prejudice? Here is blind ignorance in high places. Here is nepotism.

This is a super book, beautifully written. The best book I have read this year.

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