From the winner of the Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2011, an extraordinary true-life tale about a long-forgotten mystery…
Arthur and George grow up worlds apart in late nineteenth-century Britain: Arthur in shabby-genteel Edinburgh, George in the vicarage of a small Staffordshire village. Arthur is to become one of the most famous men of his age, while George remains in hard-working obscurity. But as the new century begins, they are brought together by a sequence of events that made sensational headlines at the time as The Great Wyrley Outrages.
This is a novel about low crime and high spirituality, guilt and innocence, identity, nationality and race. Most of all it is a profound and moving meditation on the fateful differences between what we believe, what we know and what we can prove.
Julian Barnes is an excellent writer, and his book is fiction based on actual events. He has used many of the documents, news articles, court records and personal letters to record the events involving the prosecution of George and the involvement of Arthur, though his meticulous style worked to his disadvantage for some. Both the main characters are well drawn and believable as flawed human beings. It is some way into the book before the reader is aware who Arthur is and what makes George’s family different in the context of the times; which are well depicted.
The local area is described in such a way that the atmosphere both physical and social is conveyed effectively. The book raises many questions about the judicial system, prejudices that prevailed at the time, moral attitudes and how society operated.