Arthur and George
Conan Doyle is a magnificent figure for any novelist to capture: full of brio and ornate convictions, driven by athleticism and a powerful sexuality touchingly bounded by deep Victorian principles. Edalji is a more obscure figure, peculiar looking and deeply formal, cautious and shy: Barnes depicts him with an almost magical subtlety. The story alternates between Edalji's troubles and Conan Doyle's sumptuous biography: early fame, wealth, an ill but beloved wife, a noble love affair, and his inability to shake free of his most famous creation, Sherlock Holmes, whose exploits Conan Doyle felt did not represent his true calling or greatest achievement. Arthur & George, rich and immensely readable, perfectly balances these radically different characters in a stream of flawless, driving sentences. The book is also sustained by Barnes's affectionate understanding of England's halting commitment both to art and to justice. This is an "English" novel in the most engaging sense of the word, and a great one.