Tragedy of Arthur (Phillips)

The Tragedy of Arthur 
Arthur Phillips, 2011
Random House
400 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780812977929

The book's doomed hero is Arthur Phillips, a young man struggling with a larger-than-life father, a con artist who works wonders of deception but is a most unreliable parent.

Arthur is raised in an enchanted world of smoke and mirrors where the only unshifting truth is his father’s and his beloved twin sister’s deep and abiding love for the works of William Shakespeare—a love so pervasive that Arthur becomes a writer in a misguided bid for their approval and affection.

Years later, Arthur’s father, imprisoned for decades and nearing the end of his life, shares with Arthur a treasure he’s kept secret for half a century: a previously unknown play by Shakespeare, titled The Tragedy of Arthur. But Arthur and his sister also inherit their father’s mission: to see the play published and acknowledged as the Bard’s last great gift to humanity.

Unless it’s their father’s last great con.

By turns hilarious and haunting, this virtuosic novel—which includes Shakespeare’s (?) lost King Arthur play in its five-act entirety—captures the very essence of romantic and familial love and betrayal. The Tragedy of Arthur explores the tension between storytelling and truth-telling, the thirst for originality in all our lives, and the act of literary mythmaking, both now and four centuries ago, as the two Arthurs—Arthur the novelist and Arthur the ancient king—play out their individual but strangely intertwined fates. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—April 23, 1969
Where—Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
Education—B.A., Harvard
Currently—lives in New York City

Arthur Phillips is an American novelist active in the 21st century. His novels include Prague (2002), The Egyptologist (2004), Angelica (2007), The Song Is You (2009), and The Tragedy of Arthur (2011).

Phillips was born in Minneapolis and received a BA in history from Harvard (1986–90). After spending two years in Budapest (1990–1992), he then studied jazz saxophone for four semesters at Berklee College of Music (1992–93).[2] In his author biography and several interviews he claims to have been a child actor,  a jazz musician, a five-time Jeopardy! champion, a speechwriter, and an advertising copywriter for medical devices, and a "dismally failed entrepreneur." He lived in Budapest from 1990 to 1992 and in Paris from 2001 to 2003, and now lives in New York with his wife and two sons.

Before becoming a best-selling novelist, Phillips was (in fact) a five-time champion on Jeopardy! in 1997. In 2005, he competed in the Jeopardy! Ultimate Tournament of Champions. He won his opening-round game but lost in the second round.

Prague (2002)
Despite its title, Prague is set almost entirely in Budapest, Hungary, primarily in 1990, with an interlude detailing several previous generations of Hungarian history, from the Austro-Hungarian monarchy through the First and Second World Wars.

The main line of the novel follows a group of young Western expatriates through their lives in Budapest. Interwoven tales produce an ensemble portrait of the expats and their adopted city, just recovering from decades of Communism, fascism, and war. The novel's recurring themes include nostalgia, sincerity and authenticity, and young people's first search for meaning in life. The novel was well received commercially and critically, winning Phillips the 2003 Los Angeles Times/Art Seidenbaum Award for Best First Fiction, as well as other honors.

The Egyptologist (2004)
The novel is structured as journals, letters, telegrams, and drawings, from several different points of view. The main story is set in 1922 and follows a hopeful explorer who, working near Howard Carter (the man who discovered the tomb of King Tutankhamun), risks more and more of his life and savings on an apparently quixotic effort to find the tomb of an apocryphal Egyptian king.

The book was an international bestseller and critical success in more than two dozen countries. US critics noted Phillips's versatility in producing a book so different from his first, and fans of the book included Gary Shteyngart, George Saunders, Elizabeth Peters, and Stephen King. Others, however, most notably Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times, found the book overlong and confusing.

Angelica (2007)
Superficially a Victorian ghost story, Angelica won Phillips comparisons to Henry James, Vladimir Nabokov, and Stephen King. King himself praised the book, and the Washington Post opined that it cemented Phillips's reputation as "one of the best writers in America."

In the novel, the same events are retold four times from four different perspectives, each section casting doubt on the version that came before, until the reader is left to sort truth from fantasy on his or her own. Although the novel received extensive critical praise, it was a commercial disappointment.

The Song Is You (2009)
Phillips's fourth novel tells the story of a middle-aged man's pursuit of a young woman, an Irish pop singer he sees performing in a bar. Kirkus Reviews said, "Phillips still looks like the best American novelist to have emerged during the present decade."

The Tragedy of Arthur (2011)
This fifth book was shortlisted for the IMPAC International Literary Prize. A faux memoir, the story revolves around a con-man father who convinces his son  to sell a hitherto unknown Shakespeare play. Publishers Weekly called it "a tricky project, funny and brazen, smart and playful." (Adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 1/21/2014.)

Book Reviews
Arthur Phillips has found the perfect vehicle for his cerebral talents: his ingenuity; his bright, elastic prose; and, most notably, his penchant for pastiche—for pouring his copious literary gifts into old vessels and reinventing familiar genres…With The Tragedy of Arthur Mr. Phillips has created a wonderfully tricky Chinese puzzle box of a novel that is as entertaining as it is brainy. If its characters are a little emotionally predictable, we don't mind all that much: we're more interested in seeing how the author cuts and sands his puzzle pieces, assembles them into a pretty contraption and then inserts lots of mirrors and false bottoms.
Michiko Kakutani - New York Times

[T]he novelist's art is a cunning ability to lure the reader into treating counterfeit bills as if they were current. And this particular novel—a fictional memoir posing as a fraudulent introduction to a forged play—is a spectacular instance of the confidence game. It is a tribute to Arthur Phillips's singular skill that his work leaves the reader not with resentment at having been tricked but rather with gratitude for the gift of feigned wonder.
Stephen Greenblatt - New York Times Book Review

I suspect that most readers will greatly enjoy Phillips's easygoing and digressive, if admittedly self-absorbed introduction. Just think of the joyless academic prose that a professional Elizabethan might have produced!…The Tragedy of Arthur, however you view it, shows off a writer at the top of his game.
Michael Dirda - Washington Post

Devious and irresistible family drama bundled into an exploration of fraud and authenticity.
Wall Street Journal

Wily and engrossing family saga [with] sparkling and imaginative prose. Shakespeare would applaud a man who does him so proud.
Boston Globe

A circus of a novel, full of wit, pathos and irrepressible intelligence.
Minneapolis Star Tribune

The story of a family that is Shakespearean in several senses.... [The Tragedy of Arthur] contains literary echoes of Nabokov, Stoppard and even...Thomas Pynchon.
San Francisco Chronicle

Their father spends most of [Arthur and his sister Dana's] lives in prison, but when he's about to be released as a frail old man, he enlists Arthur in securing the publication of The Tragedy of Arthur from an original quarto he claims to have purloined from a British estate decades earlier.... It's a tricky project, funny and brazen, smart and playful.
Publishers Weekly

A memoir and a Shakespearean play wrapped into a novel?.... The narrator—a knockoff of the author himself?—relates the obsession of his father and twin sister with the Bard of Avon and the discovery within the family of a hitherto unknown play by none other than.... [T]he narrator pokes wicked fun at the ubiquitous memoir genre.... [I]nspired, original, entertaining writing—deftly delivered here by one of our most talented authors. —Edward Cone, New York
Library Journal

The always-original Phillips has outdone himself in this clever literary romp. Successfully blending and bending genres, he positions himself as a character in a novel that skewers Shakespearean scholarship, the publishing industry, and his own life to rollicking effect.... [Y]ou simply must read the book.... [Phillips] continues to intrigue and amaze. —Margaret Flanagane

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