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The Tragedy of Arthur: A Novel Paperback – Feb 21 2012


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (Feb. 21 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812977920
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812977929
  • Product Dimensions: 20.4 x 13.3 x 2.2 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 290 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #292,454 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)


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By Reader Writer Runner TOP 50 REVIEWER on Aug. 11 2011
Format: Hardcover
Why does a million-dollar work of art become valueless when some expert exposes it as a forgery? What differentiates "real" from "fake"? How does one prove authorship?

Arthur Phillips' newest novel blurs, or rather obliterates, the boundary between appearance and reality. The author's protagonist, also named Arthur Phillips, and his twin sister, Dana, have suffered unstable childhoods largely thanks to their con-man father (yes, also named Arthur Phillips), who spends most of the novel in jail. On his death bed, he produces his most prized possession: a lost Shakespearean manuscript. In what turns into a faux-memoir-meets-academic-introduction-to-Shakespeare-play, the protagonist seesaws between avowing "The Tragedy of Arthur"'s authenticity and mourning its fallaciousness. In the meantime, a media frenzy brews over the historical sensation of the century: a new work by the bard.

The 250 page "novel" culminates in a "Shakespeare" play written by Phillips. Or did Shakespeare actually write it? This pastiche evokes great admiration for the novelist's cleverness, skill and erudition but, unfortunately, after a few initial pages of engrossment, the book emerges as a crashing bore. It definitely provokes thought but it over-emphasizes the theme of illusion; any emotion the prose conjures seems specious and leaves the reader feeling cold.
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Format: Hardcover
In his funniest novel to date, Arthur Phillips ("Prague", "The Egyptologist", "Angelica", "The Song Is You"), pokes fun at the genre of memoir and of Shakespearean scholarship in his irresistible "The Tragedy of Arthur", which allegedly one William Shakespeare wrote as a play that was left out of the 1597 Folio edition of his plays; those recognizable to anyone familiar with Shakespeare's oeuvre. Pulling no punches, Phillips casts himself as the befuddled famous literary son of his father, the artful dodger and the likely forger of this "Shakespeare" play. Having inherited the play's manuscript from his deceased father, Phillips finds himself the unlikely protagonist of this tale, authorized by Random House in editing and preparing for publication this long-lost "Shakespeare" play. And once he realizes that this manuscript is most likely an excellent forgery, he finds himself legally compelled by his Random House publisher Jennifer Hershey and her colleagues (both real and fictitious, including his Random House publicist whom I have met) to fulfill his contract by producing a publishable manuscript.

Much of "The Tragedy of Arthur" is an extensive Introduction that describes the complex relationships which Phillips has had with his father, his stepfather and with his twin sister Dana; an introduction that quite literally pokes fun at the genre of memoir itself (Anyone expecting the luminous lyrical prose of Frank McCourt's "Angela's Ashes", may be disappointed, since Phillips's Introduction isn't as memorably written, and yet, it is still a most fascinating work of memoir from another fine American author, the real Arthur Phillips himself.).
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Amazon.com: 86 reviews
87 of 94 people found the following review helpful
The Genius of Arthur April 6 2011
By Jill I. Shtulman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
The very first thing I did after finishing The Tragedy of Author - Arthur Phillips's ingenious faux-memoir - was to Google to see what was true and what wasn't...only to find that much of Phillips's traceable past has been erased.

Did he really have a gay twin sister named Dana, a scam artist father who spent his adult life in prison, a Czech wife and twin sons of his own? Methinks not. What I do know is that Arthur Phillips shares his birthday with the Bard himself, that he was born in Minnesota, and that he is indeed a writer to be watched very carefully. Because what he's accomplished in this novel - er, memoir - is sheer genius.

Arthur Phillips - the character - is an unreliable narrator if there ever was one, and points it out in various excerpts. Right from the start when he says, "I have never much liked Shakespeare," we feel a little off-center. The book is, after all about the ultimate Shakespeare scam: his neer-do-well father, at the end of his life, shares with Arthur a previously unknown play by Shakespeare titled The Tragedy of Arthur and entices him to use his Random House connections to get the play published.

To say his connection with his father is complicated is an understatement. Arthur Phillips, memoirist, reflects, "His life was now beyond my comprehension and much of my sympathy - even if I had been a devoted visitor, a loving son, a concerned participant in his life. I was none of those." Now he wonders: did his father perform the ultimate con? If so, how did he pull it off? And how do the two Arthurs - Arthur the ancient king portrayed in the "lost" play and Arthur the memoirist - intertwine their fates?

It's a tricky project and Arthur Phillips - the novelist - is obviously having great fun with it. At one point, he urges readers to, "Go Google the van Meergeen Vermeers...Read James Frey's memoir now...We blink and look around, rubbing the fairy dust from our eyes, wonder whether we might have dreamt it all. Once you know it isn't Shakespeare, none of it sounds like Shakespeare. How could it." But somehow, it does.

The play is reproduced in its entirety in the second part and indeed, it reads like Shakespeare (I read all of his major plays in grad school and have seen many of them performed). It's absolutely brazen that Arthur Phillips could have mimicked Shakespeare so successfully and with seeming authenticity.

So in the end, the theme comes down to identity. As Phillips the memoirist writes, "So much of Shakespeare is about being at a loss for identity being lost somewhere without the self-defining security of home and security, lost in a shipwreck, confused with a long-lost twin, stripped of familiar power, taken for a thief, taken for the opposite gender, taken for a pauper, believing oneself an orphan."

And, as Phillips the novelist knows, it's also a trick for perspective. The play, the novel, the memoir, the scam can equally be said to be "about a man born in Stratford in 1565 - maybe on April 22 or 24, by the way -- or about an apocryphal boy king in Dark Ages England or about my father or his idea of me or my grandfather or Dana in armor or or or." Just as Shakespeare may or may not have written his plays - according to some anti-Bards - so might this new one be a fakery, written by Arthur's fictional father. There is layer steeped upon layer steeped upon layer in this book. It's audacious and it's brilliant. Arthur Phillips convincingly shows us just how easy it is to reinvent a play, a history, or ourselves with just a few sweeps of a pen.
37 of 40 people found the following review helpful
Sparkling May 2 2011
By Yoli - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I read a lot, and a lot of what I read is junk. The Tragedy of Arthur is not brain candy; it's a feast, a wildly inventive story within a story within. I loved it.

All three Arthurs -- hopefully not also the fourth author Arthur -- are doomed heroes careening from crisis to crisis. Reading the story is like watching a savant work a rubik's cube -- each move appears random, but you know the inevitable end point and after a while the elegance of the pattern emerges. I enjoyed the anticipation, wondering how all the disparate pieces were going to snap into the final image. Most of all, I enjoyed the prose, the puns, the imagery. I'm a sucker for anyone who loves and leverages language.

I'll end with a plea that readers not be dismayed by what I'm sure will be a flood of reviews acclaiming Arthur's brilliance, cleverness, and Shakespearean complexity. It's all that, sure, but it's also great fun. It's not difficult or intimidating, especially if you choose not to read the "Shakespeare" at the end. (But do read it; it's quite witty and I love the dueling footnotes.)
27 of 33 people found the following review helpful
Philips does it again....... April 20 2011
By Jean Brandt - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Unique, ambitious, humorous yet at times intensely sad, Arthur Phillips new novel is a joy to read.
The "Introduction" , which is written as a memoir is a testament to the sometimes painful relationship between fathers and sons. Especially should that father be a less than stellar character. Throw a twin sister into the mix and the relationship becomes far more complex based on the close ties between the two siblings.
As Arthur Philips points out in this story, I and many generations of readers have grown up with Shakespeare as part of our literary heritage and the Bard is never far from the tongue....how often we quote lines from his works would probably make an interesting case study. However I am not well versed in Shakespeare, nor would I consider myself a "fan".....not my choice of reading material.
Having said that, I would like to say that one need not be familiar with Shakespeare's works to enjoy this novel. Though the book is, in part, about the great writer, it is much more than just that.
It was ambitious of Phillips to take this on, especially in the manner he did but he pulled it off.
As I read "The Tragedy of Arthur" I learned a bit about the great Shakespeare and his work I was entertained, laughed out loud and felt deeply for the main character's struggle to connect with a father he had little reason to trust.
This reader enjoyed the time spent with the pages of words contained in this book.......isn't this what it is all about ?
Thank you Mr. Phillips !
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
A Comic Novel April 24 2011
By James Henderson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
A comedy of Nabokovian proportions, the latest novel from Arthur Phillips is a fictional rendering of a long lost play purported to be by William Shakespeare. The play, however, is prefaced with a 256 page fictional memoir that tells the story of Arthur Phillips and his family and the trials and tribulations of his experience with Shakespearean tragedy. You know you are in for an interesting ride when the first line of the book is "I have never much liked Shakespeare." This is a narrator that you can trust to lead you on every chance he gets, and there are many of them. I enjoyed the wit, the wordplay, the sheer audacity of the story of Arthur with a father in jail much of the time and a twin, Dana, who "first fell for Shakespeare" when reading his plays about twins -- Twelfth Night and The Comedy of Errors. The question of authenticity is underlined when encountering references to James Frey's infamous memoir providing further clues to his project. As the memoir progresses it seems more and more imbued with the ghost of Shakespeare. With the addition of the annotated text of "Shakespeare's" The Tragedy of Arthur Phillips completes his most excellent and delightfully comical novel.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Best book of the year(s) May 8 2011
By Gina Pell - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Dazzling. Genius. Yes, all that. But also wildly imaginative, quirky, laugh out loud funny, absurd, and all the things I want in a novel novel written like an autobiographical introduction to a play. The last great reads for me were from Jennifer Egan, Vendela Vida, Jonathan Franzen (intellectually but not passionately), and David Benioff. "The Tragedy of Arthur" is a triumph.

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