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The Tragedy of Arthur: A Novel [Paperback]

by Arthur Phillips
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (86 customer reviews)

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Book Description

February 21, 2012

The Tragedy of Arthur is an emotional and elaborately constructed tour de force from “one of the best writers in America” (The Washington Post). Its doomed hero is Arthur Phillips, a young novelist struggling with a con artist father who works wonders of deception. Imprisoned for decades and nearing the end of his life, Arthur’s father reveals a treasure he’s kept secret for half a century: The Tragedy of Arthur, a previously unknown play by William Shakespeare. Arthur and his twin sister inherit their father’s mission: to see the manuscript 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 play in its entirety, brilliantly subverts our notions of truth, fiction, genius, and identity, as the two Arthurs—the novelist and the ancient king—play out their strangely intertwined fates.

A New York Times Notable Book • A New Yorker Reviewers’ Favorite of the Year • A Wall Street Journal Best Novel of the Year • A San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year • A Chicago Tribune Favorite Book of the Year • A Library Journal Top Ten Book of the Year • A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year • One of Salon’s five best novels of the year

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. A long-lost Shakespeare play surfaces in Phillips's wily fifth novel, a sublime faux memoir framed as the introduction to the play's first printing—a Modern Library edition, of course. Arthur Phillips and his twin sister, Dana, maintained an uncommon relationship with their gregarious father, a forger whose passion for the bard and for creating magic in the everyday (he takes his kids to make crop circles one night) leave lasting impressions on them both: Dana becomes a stage actress and amateur Shakespeare expert; Arthur a writer who "never much liked Shakespeare." Their father spends most of their 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, though, as the authentication process wears on—successfully—Arthur becomes convinced the play is his father's greatest scam. Along the way, Arthur riffs on his career and ex-pat past, and, most excruciatingly, unpacks his relationship with Dana and his own romantic flailings. Then there's the play itself, which reads not unlike something written by the man from Stratford-upon-Avon. It's a tricky project, funny and brazen, smart and playful. (Apr.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

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. Poised on the brink of literary history, Random House is about to publish a recently discovered Shakespearean play that had languished for centuries until unearthed by Phillips� own father, also named Arthur Phillips. As literary executor of his father�s estate, the younger Arthur is invited to provide a �brief� introduction to this masterpiece, detailing the often questioned provenance of the play and his own eccentrically dysfunctional family in the process. Oh, by the way, the play, complete with scholarly notes, is also appended. Who wrote the play? Was it Arthur Phillips or William Shakespeare? How much truth does an author actually reveal in a fictional memoir? How low will a publishing company sink in pursuit of a literary coup? Does a play within a novel ever make sense? For the answers to these and other burning questions, you simply must read the book. High-Demand Backstory: Phillips, who has been on everyone�s radar since the publication of Prague (2007), continues to intrigue and amaze. --Margaret Flanagan --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (February 21, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812977920
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812977929
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (86 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #563,052 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Arthur Phillips was born in Minneapolis and educated at Harvard. He has been a child actor, a jazz musician, a speechwriter, a dismally failed entrepreneur, and a five-time Jeopardy! champion.

His first novel, Prague, was named a New York Times Notable Book, and receivedThe Los Angeles Times/Art Seidenbaum Award for best first novel. His second novel, The Egyptologist, was an international bestseller, and was on more than a dozen "Best of 2004" lists. Angelica, his third novel, made The Washington Post best fiction of 2007 and led that paper to call him "One of the best writers in America." The Song Is You was a New York Times Notable Book, on the Post's best of 2009 list, and inspired Kirkus to write, "Phillips still looks like the best American novelist to have emerged in the present decade."

His work has been published in twenty-seven languages, and is the source of three films currently in development.

His fifth book, The Tragedy of Arthur, was named one of the best books of 2011 by
The New York Times
The New Yorker
The Wall Street Journal
The Chicago Tribune
Kirkus Reviews
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune
The San Francisco Chronicle
The Philadelphia Inquirer
The American Library Association
Library Journal
Paste Magazine
The Toronto Globe & Mail (Canada)
The Toronto Star (Canada)
The New Statesman (U.K.)
Critical Mob
Hudson Booksellers
Barnes and Noble

He lives in New York with his wife and two sons.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
87 of 94 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Genius of Arthur April 6, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
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.
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36 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sparkling May 2, 2011
By Yoli
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.)
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27 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Philips does it again....... April 20, 2011
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 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 !
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best book of the year(s) May 8, 2011
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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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Comic Novel April 24, 2011
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.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Loved the Novel, Didn't Love The Play
This novel is purportedly the introduction to a newly-discovered (and possibly fraudulent) play by William Shakespeare, entitled The Tragedy of Arthur. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Anne Mills
2.0 out of 5 stars Can't recommend it
I did not enjoy this book and only read it because it was recommended by a friend who was listening to it on tape. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Blue Ridge Mountains
5.0 out of 5 stars A book of Sheakespearean genius and wonder
In the (presumably fictional) autobiographical (presumably fictional, but borrowing heavily from threads of his "real" life) introduction to this recently discovered long-lost... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Designing Books
4.0 out of 5 stars Very Original
This is an inventively conceived books. It is well written and original. It is a tragedy of dysfunctional characters. Admired it for the concept.
Published 8 months ago by cherry bost
5.0 out of 5 stars Huge fun!!
Equal parts Shakespeare, Nabokov, and Pirandello, this novel is a blast. It is the best riff on the reality v. Read more
Published 8 months ago by S. McCoy
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyed it a lot, considering I'm not a big fan of Autobiographies
This book was very entertaining for me which was a surprise because I am not usually into autobiographies. The shakespeare play, real or not was pretty good too.
Published 9 months ago by Joseph Hawkes-cates
2.0 out of 5 stars Another meditation on the nature of truth, fiction and deceit
When I've described this novel to friends, it's always sounded interesting. That's strange because I actually struggled to finish it, and only did so out of a sense of duty and... Read more
Published 10 months ago by PadmaPriya
5.0 out of 5 stars Is it real or is it a novel?
After reading Arthur, i had the opportunity to hear the author speak. This book reads like a rich description of real events. But some of it is real and some isn't. Wonderful book!
Published 11 months ago by Pamela S. Hamre
1.0 out of 5 stars I tried
My book club selected this book. I tried on several occasions to "get into" the book. No dice. The reviews at the book club review were mixed, only a few loved it. Sorry. Read more
Published 11 months ago by L. Tibbetts
5.0 out of 5 stars A play within a novel that is totally genius.
The Tragedy of Arthur plays with so many things. It plays with unreliable narrators, it plays with the idea of fiction and non-fiction, it plays with family dynamics and it plays... Read more
Published 11 months ago by Michael Todd
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