Sweet, slow and absorbing
I’m not normally a fan of Julian Barnes – finding him a ‘clever’ writer, but without much heart, so that I get a bit tired by his erudition, and don’t engage with his characters.
This was a very different experience (I’m sure partly helped by the fact that Conan Doyle is an interesting, and complex character) The book follows the case of a second generation immigrant, George Edjali, a solicitor, victim of a series of anonymous letters, who ended up being wrongfully accused of crimes – mis-assumptions made on the grounds of his race. (Almost a sort of parochial English lower-key Dreyfus scenario)
The author of Sherlock Holmes involved himself in the case
I felt a depressing sense that things have not changed as much as they should, as far as intrinsic racism is concerned, and the wilful assumptions made at that time purely because of George Edalji’s colour have continuing parallels.
Barnes’ structures Doyle’s unravelling of the case rather like a Sherlock Holmes story, and this is delicious.
There is also a lovely illustration of the idiocy of racial stereotypes in that the dour Scot (Doyle) is actually a very volatile character – and, moreover, drawn to the mystical and metaphysical whilst the supposedly excitable Parsee is phlegmatic, controlled and rational, and rejects the esoteric practices of spiritualism – though unfortunately his lack of expressed volatility is then further used against him by a society determined to damn him however he expresses himself.
I might now go back to earlier Barnes’ books and see if the heart in this can carry me through them!