Last week I finished Arthur & George by Julian Barnes for one of my book clubs (click here to read all entries related to this book).
This novel is moving, intelligent and thoughtfully deals with issues of race, class, morality, honor, spirituality, friendship and love. Barnes’s elegant prose is compelling, particularly the riveting dialogue, and carefully crafted characterizations.
Arthur’s voice is saturated with that of Sherlock Holmes and the contemplations of Alfred Wood (Arthur’s assistant) that he is to Arthur as Dr. Watson is to Sherlock Holmes add a light-hearted nature to the miscarriage of justice that George Edalji suffered.
I smiled when Barnes had George read “a tattered cheap edition” of The Hound of the Baskervilles in prison and “judged it excellent.”
I felt uncomfortable reading about Mam’s developing relationship with Brian Waller, just six years older than Arthur.
I read with mixed feelings about Arthur’s affair with the young classically trained mezzo-soprano and accomplished horsewoman Jean Leckie and Mam’s subsequent approval of the relationship. The flirtation would be so delightful if not adulterous:
He looks down into her hazel-green eyes. “Are you flirting with me, young lady?”
She looks straight back at him. “I am talking to you about skiing.” But those, it feels, are only her nominal words.
“Because if you are, be careful I do not fall in love with you.”
He barely knows what he has said. He half means it entirely and half cannot imagine what has got into him.
“Oh, you are already. In love with me. And I with you. There is no doubt about it. No doubt at all.”
I was outraged when Mam went so far as to give Jean a small pale cabochon sapphire ring (which had once belonged to her great-aunt) because Arthur chivalrously wished for Jean to wear a ring to symbolize their love.
And I was saddened to read of Jean’s introduction to Arthur’s dearest sister Lottie and even to his wife’s mother with assurances that Touie will “be shielded at all cost from knowledge, pain and dishonour” and it pained me to read of the heated disagreement between Arthur and his sister Connie and brother-in-law Willie regarding Arthur’s impropriety.
I laughed out loud at the use of the chess term zugzwang (a player whose turn it is to move whose every possible move would worsen their position is said to be in zugzwang) to describe what Arthur’s life feels like and I read with curiosity Arthur’s deepening interest in “spiritism” and mysticism:
“If you look at what it actually says in the Bible, if you ignore the way in which the text has been altered and misinterpreted to suit the will of the established churches, it’s quite clear that Jesus was a highly trained psychic or medium. The inner circle of the Apostles, especially Peter, James and John, were clearly chosen for their spiritist capabilities. The ‘miracles’ of the Bible are merely — well, not merely, wholly — examples of Jesus’s psychic powers.”
And as I mentioned before, I was disgusted by the descriptions of animal mutilation and saddened by the racism endured by George Edalji at the hands of policemen and others.
Ultimately I felt joyous reading about the Courts proclaiming George innocent and about Arthur’s work in this verdict help lift Arthur out of his depression.
It is because this novel evoked such emotion in me that it was so captivating.
I’m looking forward to my book club’s discussion of Arthur & George!
And I must borrow a copy of The Hound of the Baskervilles from my local library to re-read.