January 17, 2009 by blog staff
Arthur & George by Julian Barnes
There was a time when I was a big mystery reader, but I never read Sherlock Holmes. I’m not sure why. Private eye novels were my favorite subgenre, and no doubt this was a compensation for the fact that I’m a naive guy who’s slow on the pick-up. My wife is forever collaring me and pointing out things that I should have noticed myself. So of course I loved to read novels about P.I.’s who could see around corners and back through time.
I didn’t go for Sherlock Holmes, though, because it was never the puzzle aspect of the private eye mysteries that interested me. It was more the fantasy P.I. personae, and the shifting identities of characters in, for example, Ross MacDonald’s Lew Archer mysteries. I thought of Sherlock as a cerebral puzzle-solver, and that didn’t appeal.
I may have to go back and read those stories, though, after reading Arthur & George. This novel supplies a biography of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Holmes stories. The George of the title is another real-life personage, George Edalji, who is arrested for crimes as bizarre as anything that Sherlock ever encountered. The novel’s point of view shifts back and forth masterfully between these two very different Englishmen, beginning with their first boyhood memories and continuing into their celebrated adulthoods. (Edalji’s celebrity was much briefer than Doyle’s.) I couldn’t figure out where the story was headed and I didn’t want to put the book down until I knew.
So I may read some Holmes stories, after all these years. I’m certainly going to read some other books by Julian Barnes.