Monday, January 15, 2007

YOU'VE GOT TO ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE, eliminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative, don’t mess with Mister-In-Between!’‘ That's my mantra for the month

I read Arthur and George by Julian Barnes when it first came out in hardback some 18 months ago, but I thought I would put it on my blog, as it was up for discussion at my bookclub this month. Last year it was short listed for the Booker Prize.

It is a rare event for me to buy fiction in hardback, but the publishers, Jonathan Cape, had chosen to bind it in cloth with a most attractive design embossed on it, so I was seduced! It looks very handsome on a bookshelf.

Happily, the novel lives up to the promise of the cover. The eponymous protagonists are Arthur Conan Doyle, the famous author who created Sherlock Holmes, and George Edalji, an unknown solicitor. The first half of the book sets out their respective lives from childhood to becoming adults; Barnes tells the story in alternate sections from their individual viewpoints, a device he uses all through the book.

A long forgotten miscarriage of justice is the point at which their lives cross. The novel is based on real people and events which were evidently well documented in 1903. George Edalji, son of the Vicar of Great Wyrley in Staffordshire, was arrested, tried and found guilty of the mutilation of a number of horses and cows over a two year period. Edalji’s father is a Parsee by birth and came to England from Bombay as a young man. He was ordained into the Anglican Church, married a Scotswoman and had three children, George being the eldest.

George was sentenced to 7 years in gaol for the crimes, however further mutilations of animals continued in the area, so after three years imprisonment he was released – this was before a Court of Appeal existed in English law. Arthur Conan Doyle, by now knighted, respectable, rich and world famous, takes up George’s cause and determines to get him a free pardon and compensation. He tackles the case in the manner of his doppelganger, Sherlock Holmes, and by cunning investigation coupled with stirring up opinion in the newspapers and parliament he partially succeeds

Barnes stunningly evokes Edwardian England where, behind the Imperial façade, changes are afoot, and his brilliant characterisation, bring Arthur and George to life on the page. Arthur is dynamic, romantic, and positive, whereas George is quiet, diffident, and circumspect. The contrast between the two men is never more obvious than in Arthur’s realisation that the whole case against George has been built on flimsy circumstantial evidence based on racial prejudice, and yet George refuses to admit that any racism has been directed towards him. Neither George nor Arthur are “Englishmen” by blood, but both consider themselves to be so for different reasons. Weaving through the main theme Barnes has also wound the story of Arthur’s long-drawn out love with a young woman who becomes his second wife after the resolution of the Edalji case, and their growing belief in spiritualism.
The two passages of the book that I found absolutely marvellous were the chapter on George’s trial, and the meeting between Arthur and Captain Anson the Chief Constable of Staffordshire. Evidence given in a trial may not be interpreted by a judge and jury in the way that seems obvious to an outside observer, and so events can be twisted to appear very different; this is as true today as it was then, and Barnes has managed to convey it so well. The meeting between Arthur and Anson is so brilliantly written that I was apoplectic with anger at Anson’s patronising arrogant racism – I felt as if I were in the room listening to the conversation.

The final part of the book, after Arthur’s death seemed an unnecessary addendum, and I really thought it could have been dropped with no damage to the book as a whole.
All in all, an excellent book and one that will appeal to both male and female readers, I urge you to get hold of a copy, I’m confident you will enjoy it too.


I have just cut my finger - small cut, tip of forefinger, left hand, if you are interested – and like most cuts on the tip of a finger it bled like b*ggery. In one of the kitchen drawers I keep a pack of sticking plasters for just such a situation, it is a newish pack, and this was the first time I’ve had to use one of the plasters. Well lucky it wasn’t a serious cut or I would have bled to death in the attempt. The plasters are individually sealed in clear plastic. To open one of these clear envelopes with two hands is already difficult, but to try and prise it open with only one hand, whilst trying to keep your finger from dripping blood over your white T-shirt is absolutely impossible. By gripping it between my teeth and trying to rip it apart with my free hand, I finally managed to extract the plaster – by now it was looking rather the worse for wear- I then had to (a) wipe the cut finger clean of blood so the plaster would stick to it, and (b) prise off the two backing strips which cover the sticky part of the plaster – yet again using teeth proved the only reliable method. Finally I managed to get the plaster stuck over the cut, and flopped exhausted into a chair.

Manufacturing sticking plasters must be big business, whole factories devoted to nothing else, company profits dependant on their purchase, Chairmen’s bonuses dependant on annual results etc etc. But, do ANY of these manufacturers do any research on what it takes to put a plaster on a wound? Why can’t they design a product that is easy to use? Come on BandAid, Elastoplast, and the rest, you know who I’m ranting about. I suspect they all have sugar plum visions dancing in their heads of little chaps who have grazed a knee having a plaster lovingly applied by a full-time mummy who kisses it all better at the same time. What about those who have to do it alone? Like me, boo hoo…


Last March my DH and I were back in SA and we were privileged to have a week in Mpumalanga just on the eastern borders of the Kruger Park. One of my dearest friends who lives in Jo'burg sent us off with a huge cold box full of food for the first two days - amongst the other goodies- cold roast chicken, lasagne, and fruit salad - was a pack of these Brownies she'd made. DH and I ended up squabbling like 5 year olds over the last one, they are soooooo good. She kindly gave me the recipe. I've just made a batch for my son and nephew - and boy, am I popular - you could be popular too, make some soon and you'll see what I mean.


200gm butter
½ cup cocoa powder

2 cups soft brown sugar
1 teaspn vanilla essence

1 cup plain flour
2 eggs

½ cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Pre-heat oven to 180 C

Grease a 30cm x 20cm baking tin and line base with greaseproof paper.
Melt butter and cocoa powder together in a large pan but don’t boil the mixture.
Add the sugar and vanilla essence – stir really well
Take the pan off the heat, add the flour and mix it in.
Add the eggs – beat them in really well.
Add the chopped nuts and stir them in.
Spread the mixture evenly into the baking tin. Bake at 180
°C for 20-25 mins.
Turn out onto a rack when cooked. Allow to cool.

Ice with any chocolate icing (optional), and cut into squares.

Makes about 16.


charlotte said...

I also loved Arthur & George. I think Julian Barnes is a great storyteller.

As for the chocolate brownies, I've just made some for the first time and they were immensely popular. When my family and I have recovered from the chocolate hit, I'll give Sarah's recipe a try!

mrbicycle said...

Great blog. I was directed here by your mantra this month. I'm an author writing a book for college students with Attention Deficit Disorder (Conquering College with ADD) and I researching this quote online and ended up here.

Have a beautiful day and enjoy the brownies!!!

~Michael Sandler