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Julian Barnes

Jul 23 2010

ShareReads: A Vote for Arthur and George

by ShareReads

ShareReads appears on the DCPLive blog on Fridays. Each week, a different person will share a little about what they’re currently reading, and why they like or don’t like it. The heart of ShareReads will be responses from blog readers, and the window of opportunity here is wide. Feel free to respond and discuss the book or author being mentioned, ask or answer a question, or even take the conversation in a different direction: mention what you are currently reading, and how you feel about it. The point of ShareReads is to have an ongoing discussion about books and reading. Remember: posting a response also counts as an activity for the Summer Reading for Adults program.

With an election only a few days behind us, I’m ready for another. ShareReads is the new ballot box, and I’m casting a public vote for Arthur and George by Julian Barnes as the best novel I’ve read in the last year and a half (maybe even longer).

It’s a wonderful work of historical fiction, based on real events which occurred in Britain in the late Victorian area. Arthur and George grow up completely apart, not knowing each other at all, living in different environments. Then, their circumstances are drastically altered, and ultimately the two meet. The reader is slowly and expertly drawn into a mystery which addresses all sorts of complex life issues: belief (or the lack of it) and its changing nature, honor, identity, friendship, personal morals, ambition, family relationships, and the passage of time. Read this book, and I guarantee you’ll discover even more. It’s deep, rich, resonant, and subtle all at the same time.

A previous ShareReads post raised the question of reader preference for character driven vs. plot driven novels. I’m happy to tell you that this book scores off the chart on both counts. The characters are well developed, vivid and compelling, and the plot never slackens. Another selling point: for those who love short chapters, you’ve got ‘em, and for those who love long chapters, ditto.  Furthermore, while there’s suspense and drama, the reader is not shortchanged on humor along the way.

Confession time: Arthur and George has kicked me out of a real reading slump. For months I’ve rarely gotten past the first 50 pages of most novels I’ve tried. Pardon me for rhapsodizing a little here, but this book made me realize all over again the sheer power of reading, and not only in the sense of inhabiting the thoughts and feelings of characters and being swept away by a narrative. It reminded me of why I read because it shook me up, making me think about those life issues I mentioned earlier and engaging me thoroughly while doing it. It has been the experience I hope for in a book, but rarely encounter.

Arthur and George also a perfect book club book, as several of our library book clubs have or soon will discover. I read it on the thoughtful recommendation of a trusted friend to whom I’m very grateful. Consider me a friend who’d like to recommend it to you, whether you read it alone or with a group of friends.

Is there a book you’d consider to be the best you’ve read so far this summer? Conversely, have you found one which you’d warn readers to miss by a country mile? Let’s kick up some ShareReads dust out there! What are you reading?