Posted by: billpurdue | July 11, 2008

15 Arthur and George and books to look out for

Last time I briefly mentioned that I was enjoying the book Arthur and George by Julian Barnes. I continued to enjoy it right up to the end – it was one of those unputdownable titles. And so it should have been, as it came with excellent credentials – shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2005 and for Richard and Judy’s Book Club in 2006.


Arthur and George (1) is a fictionalised account of the lives of two men who grew up in totally separate and different environments in the late nineteenth century, but whose lives were destined to come together following a sequence of events that made news headlines as the Great Wyrley Outrages. George was the son of the vicar of the village of Wyrley in Staffordshire, who became a solicitor in Birmingham. Arthur was brought up in Edinburgh in a family that had known better times; he was destined to become one of the most famous men of his time.


George is accused of writing anonymous letters and of mutilating a horse on the flimsiest of circumstantial evidence. He is brought to trial and amazingly is found guilty and serves three years in prison. After his release George is still unable to resume his career as a solicitor until he can clear his name. He enlists the help of Arthur (full name Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes novels), who vehemently pursues George’s case.


 This is less than the bare bones of the book: whilst crime detection is one of the main themes, it is by no means the only one. George’s father was a Parsee and his mother was from Scotland, but George maintains throughout that race was not the reason he was accused of the crimes. Arthur’s family relationships and his second wife also play a large part in the story as well as his enthusiasm for spiritualism – or “spiritism” as he calls it. For most of the book I was riveted – I could also feel the anger build up inside me as I read with disbelief how the Staffordshire Police contrived to prosecute George for the crimes and even accused him of writing the anonymous letters to himself and his family.  I you haven’t yet read it – I wholeheartedly recommend it.


News  – and titles to look out for


I’ve just heard on the news that Salman Rushdie’s novel Midnight’s Children (2) has been voted Best of Bookers. Rushdie was the early favourite for the winner who was chosen by online voting on both sides of the Atlantic. He also won the Booker of Bookers prize in 1993 when the Booker Prize celebrated its 25th anniversary. I didn’t know that the novel had been adapted for the stage: you can read about how it was done at Online Review London.


Michael Rosen, the current Children’s Laureate has been speaking out again about the government and teachers failing to put emphasis on the importance of reading for pleasure in children’s education. I couldn’t agree more – time and time again it’s been shown that children who are good readers are also higher achievers. Read more about what Mr Rosen had to say here. 


I’ve mentioned “chick lit” before (you know the sort of thing produced by Marian Keyes, Cecelia Ahern, and Sophie Kinsella). It’s not the sort of thing for my taste, you understand, but  a new novel might just be an exception to the rule. Robyn Sisman brings out her fifth novel next month: A Hollywood Ending  (3), available in August,  is about the daughter of a rock idol and an ‘80s soapstar who gets tired of Hollywood and is offered a Shakespearean role on the London stage. Ms Sisman is an American living in London and likes to highlight transatlantic differences in a humourous way in her novels.


Much later on in the year, there’s yet another title out from Alexander McCall Smith:  La’s Orchestra Saves the World  – a standalone title,not part of a series – is set in Suffolk in 1939 and is about a widow – La – who forms an orchestra to raise the spirits of the locals. Apparently Mr McCall Smith was a member of an orchestra at one time – the Really Terrible Orchestra in Edinburgh


and finally…name that song!

Which song do these lyrics come from ? :

Baby we can talk all night

But that ain’t getting us nowhere

I can’t give you the answer, but you can find out by taking part in the Name that Song  fun competition now running in Kirkby area libraries. It’s all part of the current theme – music –  in the National Year of Reading.


Next time – Jonathan Dimbleby’s Russia.



1 Arthur and George by Julian Barnes.  Vintage £7.99  9780099492733

2 Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie. Vintage £7.99     9780099578512

3 A Hollywood Ending  by Robyn Sisman   Orion £9.99  9780752898889

4  La’s Orchestra Saves the World by Alexander McCall Smith  (1st Nov 2008)  Polygon £12.99  9781846970924

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