Arthur & George is a novel which deals with identity and race. Neither Arthur nor George are complete Englishmen (both have at least one Scottish parent and George is of Parsee origin), but they revealed the mentality of the British society at the time. When I read the novel, I felt the heaviness of prejudice, the increasing tension which is lain on George Edalji and his family and I could not help feeling bitterness when he was found guilty of a crime he had not committed. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's passion for justice and his confidence in the fact that the truth will win out out thanks to him is very exciting. The plot is well led; there is suspense and the first two parts of the novel are quite thrilling. However, there are some aspects of the plot which were less engaging. The emphasis laid upon Sir Arthur's love affairs, the death of his first wife and his second wedding with Jean, is exaggerated. The end of the second part is even quite heavy, as are the passages devoted to Sir Arthur's faith in spiritism. Nonetheless Barnes manages to keep the attention of the reader until the end. His style is simple, not over-elaborated, and the language is easy to understand. It is interesting to notice that every quotation from letters, newspapers, government reports, proceedings in Parliament, and the writings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is genuine. This gives a strong feeling of reality to the plot. As for the characters, they are complex and steer in many different feelings, showing the depth of the roots of some of the problems and questions which are still very vivid in societies today, such as racism, justice, identity and integration. The way the Edalji Case was perceived and treated by the English public opinion, the Home Office and by Sir Arthur shows the complexity of society at the time but is also revelatory as to our own society, a century after the events.
Thibaud Harrois mai 2008
Julian Barnes, Arthur & George, Arrow/Vinitage, 2005