I couldn't decide whether this book fell under the "loved it" (four stars) or "it was amazing" (five stars) category. I finally settled on "loved it" but only because I want to try (try) to keep my "it was amazing" books to an exclusive few. However, I must say that I was amazed by the book.
The story was wonderful. It is about Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, and George Edalji, a solicitor wrongly convicted of an ugly crime. The first part of the book deals with Doyle's and Edalji's youths. They did not know each other, so there is no interaction, yet Barnes is able to keep both lines going with equal intrigue. We see how Edalji nestles down into a quiet, private life while Doyle increasingly expands his sphere of influence. The book really comes together when Doyle offers to solve Edalji's crime. Interestingly, Doyle's object is noble, but his own motives are not. Even while he respects Edalji and wants to see him freed, Doyle is still fairly condescending. To me, this is Barnes doing a great job keeping true to Victorian mind.
I especially enjoyed that this book is based on true events. The letters quotes come from actual letters. I found the psuedo-biography fun and enlightening. Though the book is fiction, I'm sure that some of how Barnes characterizations were accurate, and his depiction of Edalji's legal mind and of Doyle's Victorian mind were enlightening and entertaining. I loved how Edalji would analyze things thoroughly and then cross examine himself. It didn't get in the way of the story for me to have the characters constantly feeling strongly one way only to then convince themselves that they were wrong. On the contrary, that is one of the reasons I loved this book.
Barnes writing was smooth and effortless to read. At the same time it was penetrating, and he could articulate feelings and contradictions with clarity. Personally, I think this book was better than Banville's The Sea and Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go.
4 stars out of 5