Please use this topic to discuss the July 2012 book of the month, Arthur and George by Julian Barnes
. Please wait until you have finished the book to read this discussion because this topic will contain spoilers
What do you think of the book? Do you recommend it? This is the first I've read by Julian Barnes. Has anyone read any other books by him and if so how do you think this one compares?
Overall, I like this book. I do not usually like historical fiction too much, but this is one of the best pieces of historical fiction I have read.
I think Barnes did an excellent job capturing the times. For instance, I even had to double check and make sure this was actually a recent book set in the past as opposed to one written more close to the time in which it was set because the vernacular so naturally early 20th century. From what I remember, even the third-person narration didn't give away the futuristic perspective.
I was disappointed by the ending because I was hoping for more regarding uncovering the real culprit. I understand the author is limited by the actual historical facts of the case. I felt the story building towards something when they discovered Sharp, but I was left hanging. Even when the story jumped ahead at the end to after Arthur's death, I was expecting at least some summary of what happened with Sharp and more information about the case. If this couldn't have been given because of the real life facts of the case, then I would have liked the way it was presented earlier to have been different to avoid the feeling of a lead up. The whole thing with Sharp could have been downplayed if not left out completely with an earlier recognition of the characters resigning to not finding out who actually committed the crimes and getting any kind of justification. Alternatively, Barnes could have used his skillful creativity to create a a more satisfying fictional account, even if slightly conspiracy-theorist in its rewriting of history without directly logically contradicting known facts, such as by having some kind of satisfying encounter or interaction between some character and the real culprit(s) that for some reason doesn't become documented in real life history. In the author's notes A person named Enoch Knowles confessed to writing some of the letters, but why wasn't that in the story? I assume the person wasn't responsible for the worst of it, and his confession didn't bring much resolution to the mystery in real life, but still. In any case, I just feel like this is a mystery book in which the mystery goes completely unresolved, which is extremely unsatisfying. Anyway, what do you all think of this? What do you think of the ending overall?
I was also disappointed that George never found love or even a fling with a woman. But this again is presumably not the fault of Barnes but just the facts of the matter.
I think Barnes did a great job wrapping me up in the injustice done to George. Most notably, the little slight of hand with taking an old jacket that feels slightly damp from being cold to being wet and its significance in trial particularly disturbed me if not most because of how realistic it is.
I find this line from the book, taken from page 229 in my copy, about Arthur before Touie's death when Arthur is feeling especially ashamed, hypocritical and depressed: "He looks through others accusingly, because he is so used to looking through himself."
I also find this nearby line of interest, from around the same part of the book this time on page 237 of my copy, in which Arthur is in the middle of explaining why he won't make Jean his mistress: "It might prove the opposite, that we are weakening in our love. It sometimes seems that honour and dishonour lie so close together, closer than I ever imagined.
Indeed, I see now I highlighted even more passages of Arthur talking about honor and such. In one he makes a interesting example out of the deceitfulness of politely holding in a burp. This was actually a major theme of the book, and I find it especially intriguing.
I also like this quote about George from page 420 of my book: "The authority of others has always been important to him; does he have any authority of his own? At fifty-four, he thinks a lot of things, he believes a few, but what can he really claim to know?
Are there any quotes from the book that any of you find especially noteworthy?