Written by Julian Barnes
Published by Knopf
Review by Shirley Corwin Easer
We are all familiar with the tales of Sherlock Holmes, the greatest fictional detective ever created. Yet the man who created him, Arthur Conan Doyle, was in many ways himself more fascinating and eccentric than his character. Who was Arthur Conan Doyle? How did he come to write Sherlock Holmes? What was his interest in spiritualism? And what role did he play in the case concerning George Edalji, a British-born son of a Parsi father and a Scottish mother? Through elegant narration told from both Doyle’s and Edalji’s point of view, Julian Barnes crafts a novel that shows how these two very different men become intertwined in each other’s lives.
Barnes uses perfectly tempered parallel narration to reveal Arthur and George as they grow from young boys into successful men. Arthur becomes a doctor who cannot deny his love of romantic adventure and becomes, with his creation of Sherlock Holmes, one of the most famous authors in Britain. George is a friendless outsider who must overcome severely limited eyesight and prejudice because of his dark skin to become a solicitor. George becomes the victim of a cruel scheme where he is accused of sending threatening messages to his own family and mutilating farm animals and he is convicted without evidence and sentenced to prison. Upon hearing of the miscarriage of justice, Arthur takes up the cause of George Edalji by advocating on George’s behalf, and, in Holmesian fashion, he sets out to solve the mystery. This is the story of the outsider, George Edalji, and the ultimate insider, Arthur Conan Doyle, a gentleman’s gentleman, and how they will affect each other ever after.
Barnes has crafted a novel based on believable characters (just because one’s novel is based on fact doesn’t mean the characters are believable) and tightly woven narrative threads that keep stringing the reader along. There are many ironies in this story. For example, society has labeled George Edalji an outcast because of his father’s Parsi heritage, yet George’s father is a stern vicar in the Church of England and George himself believes in Britain’s laws more strongly than anyone; George himself is more British than anyone. Arthur Conan Doyle, the epitome of success, struggles internally with guilt after his wife dies because he loves another woman. The themes of love and honor also tie into this tale.
Fans of Julian Barnes will rejoice in this novel. If you have not read Barnes before then you are in for a rare treat. A master of storytelling, Barnes’ prose reads with the rhythm of a metronome—precise and perfect and altogether priceless.
Shirley Corwin Easer is a professor and author from Boston, Massachusetts. She has had many stories, articles, and reviews published in journals seen internationally. She is currently writing her second historical novel.