MLA Platinum Award Press Release

Excerpt from Arthur & George by Julian Barnes, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Arthur & George

by Julian Barnes

Arthur & George by Julian Barnes X
Arthur & George by Julian Barnes
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jan 2006, 400 pages
    Paperback:
    Dec 2006, 512 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse Review Team
Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

Arthur

A child wants to see. It always begins like this, and it began like this then. A child wanted to see.

He was able to walk, and could reach up to a door handle. He did this with nothing that could be called a purpose, merely the instinctive tourism of infancy. A door was there to be pushed; he walked in, stopped, looked. There was nobody to observe him; he turned and walked away, carefully shutting the door behind him.

What he saw there became his first memory. A small boy, a room, a bed, closed curtains leaking afternoon light. By the time he came to describe it publicly, sixty years had passed. How many internal retellings had smoothed and adjusted the plain words he finally used? Doubtless it still seemed as clear as on the day itself. The door, the room, the light, the bed, and what was on the bed: a "white, waxen thing."

A small boy and a corpse: such encounters would not have been so rare in the Edinburgh of his time. High mortality rates and cramped circumstances made for early learning. The household was Catholic, and the body that of Arthur's grandmother, one Katherine Pack. Perhaps the door had been deliberately left ajar. There might have been a desire to impress upon the child the horror of death; or, more optimistically, to show him that death was nothing to be feared. Grandmother's soul had clearly flown up to Heaven, leaving behind only the sloughed husk of her body. The boy wants to see? Then let the boy see.

An encounter in a curtained room. A small boy and a corpse. A grandchild who, by the acquisition of memory, had just stopped being a thing, and a grandmother who, by losing those attributes the child was developing, had returned to that state. The small boy stared; and over half a century later the adult man was still staring. Quite what a "thing" amounted to—or, to put it more exactly, quite what happened when the tremendous change took place, leaving only a "thing" behind—was to become of central importance to Arthur.



George

George does not have a first memory, and by the time anyone suggests that it might be normal to have one, it is too late. He has no recollection obviously preceding all others—not of being picked up, cuddled, laughed at or chastised. He has an awareness of once having been an only child, and a knowledge that there is now Horace as well, but no primal sense of being disturbingly presented with a brother, no expulsion from paradise. Neither a first sight, nor a first smell: whether of a scented mother or a carbolicy maid-of-all-work.

He is a shy, earnest boy, acute at sensing the expectations of others. At times he feels he is letting his parents down: a dutiful child should remember being cared for from the first. Yet his parents never rebuke him for this inadequacy. And while other children might make good the lack—might forcibly install a mother's doting face or a father's supporting arm in their memories—George does not do so. For a start, he lacks imagination. Whether he has never had one, or whether its growth has been stunted by some parental act, is a question for a branch of psychological science which has not yet been devised. George is fully capable of following the inventions of others—the stories of Noah's Ark, David and Goliath, the Journey of the Magi—but has little such capacity himself.

He does not feel guilty about this, since his parents do not regard it as a fault in him. When they say that a child in the village has "too much imagination," it is clearly a term of dispraise. Further up the scale are "tellers of tall stories" and "fibbers"; by far the worst is the child who is "a liar through and through"—such are to be avoided at all costs. George himself is never urged to speak the truth: this would imply that he needs encouragement. It is simpler than this: he is expected to tell the truth because at the Vicarage no alternative exists.

Excerpted from Arthur & George by Julian Barnes Copyright © 2006 by Julian Barnes. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $39 for a year or $12 for 3 months
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: A Dredging in Swann
    A Dredging in Swann
    by Tim Garvin
    A Dredging in Swann, set in fictional Swann County, North Carolina, centers around fresh-out-of-the-...
  • Book Jacket: The Black Cathedral
    The Black Cathedral
    by Marcial Gala
    Marcial Gala's The Black Cathedral, translated from the Spanish by Anna Kushner, is narrated through...
  • Book Jacket: When We Were Vikings
    When We Were Vikings
    by Andrew David MacDonald
    In When We Were Vikings by Andrew David MacDonald, readers are first introduced to Zelda on her ...
  • Book Jacket: How to Build a Heart
    How to Build a Heart
    by Maria Padian
    Maria Padian is well-known for her motif of exploring teen reactions to social issues. Her novel ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Sun Down Motel
    by Simone St. James

    The chilling new novel from the national bestselling and award-winning author of The Broken Girls.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Splendid and the Vile
    by Erik Larson

    A fresh and compelling portrait of Winston Churchill and London during the Blitz.
    Reader Reviews

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
American Dirt
by Jeanine Cummins

"American Dirt is a Grapes of Wrath for our times."
—Don Winslow

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win this book!
Win The Lost Family

The Lost Family
by Libby Copeland

A deeply reported look at the rise of home genetic testing and the seismic shock it has had on individual lives.

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

A F I Need I A F I

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.