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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?
"That virtue we appreciate is as much ours as another's. We see so much only as we possess." - Henry David Thoreau
Im delighted this is the Book of the Month, I gave it a chance on the advice of Fran and I really enjoyed this tale of two very different characters who each had their own struggles going through life, the book was a great reflection on how petty and prejudiced our world can be, as George found out when he was hung out to dry by the neighbours and cops for having an unconventional lifestyle. It was a gripping tale of injustice and friendship which, although not usually my cup of tea, I would strongly recommend for anyone wanting a change.
As for George, maybe he was gay but couldnt be out and proud back then since it wasnt really accepted or known back then? I know he mentions wanting to meet a wife one day but that could just be the way he was reared and he may not have understood his attraction to other men, thats my opinion anyway. A great book, thanks again Fran!
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 did not feel this way at all and I do not really think that the mystery was the important part of the story. It was the way the mystery affected the lives of all the characters involved, and how it shaped their lives and how they changed. Much of this book was about abuiguity, and to prounounce the case solved on circumstantial evidence would bely that. George's thoughts on this matter are right on this point (I'd quote, but I don't have my book with me) when he reads Aruthur's evidence against the Sharpe brothers.
I also felt that the relationships between Arthur and his wife and mistress (though technically she wasn't a mistress, one could argue that as he also did not have sexual relations with his wife, Jean was more of a lover than his wife was) was a great part of this book showing the dilemma between honesty of emotion and morality.
I do not think that George was gay. I would think that he was asexual or a very low sexual drive and that, coupled with his shyness, kept him from seriously or even tentatively seeking a wife. If a woman had pursued him in a gentle way, he probably would have accepted a sexual relationship as the correct order of life, but with his sister as a companion he was content.