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88 of 95 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Genius of Arthur
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...
Published on April 6, 2011 by Jill I. Shtulman

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33 of 45 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Two parts self-indulgent memoir, one part ingenious Shakespearean forgery
"The Tragedy of Arthur" purportedly presents a lost and heretofore unknown play by William Shakespeare, "The Most Excellent and Tragical Historie of Arthur, King of Britain." A 1597 quarto of the play falls into the hands of the novelist, Arthur Phillips, who writes the introduction for the play's new publication.

The author of "The Tragedy of Arthur" is, in...
Published on April 9, 2011 by K. Sullivan


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88 of 95 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Genius of Arthur, April 6, 2011
This review is from: The Tragedy of Arthur: A Novel (Hardcover)
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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.
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37 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sparkling, May 2, 2011
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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
By 
Jean Brandt "faceinbook" (Richfield, WI United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Tragedy of Arthur: A Novel (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 !
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Tragedy of Arthur, May 6, 2011
This review is from: The Tragedy of Arthur: A Novel (Hardcover)
Read the play first. That's what the preface by "The Editors" says, and although it emerges that they have their own reasons for recommending you bypass the 250-page "introduction," it's still sound advice. If you're familiar with the rhythms of Renaissance drama, it reads fairly quickly; if not, feel free to skim a little. In this case, the play is not the thing. It's a charming pastiche, and there are a few lovely passages, but by and large it is (intentionally, one assumes) as minor as the authentic early histories, and one wonders if the novel might not have been better served by including less of it.

When the play has reached its promised end, flip back to the introduction, where you'll find the real story. Its protagonist, Arthur Phillips, shares the name of the novel's author, and certain details of biography, but of course that's part of a literary game, and would quickly become dull if the book wasn't interesting in others. Fortunately, Phillips weaves both a satisfying story about parents, siblings, and the search for identity and a wise, witty meditation on the way Shakespeare's reputation has led to such cultural eccentricities as the authorship debate, Harold Bloom's bloviations on the invention of the human, and fiercely contested battles of attribution.

Separately, these agendas would collapse: the story of the fictional Arthur's troubled relationship with his con artist father would become the kind of navel-gazing upper-class angst novel some reviewers have dismissed it as, and the Shakespeare commentary would feel too intellectual and cold, suffering what a possibly fictional reviewer of one of the real Phillips' previous books called "a curious absence of empathy." Together, the two strands, with the help of the narrator's voice, wryly self-deprecating yet aware of the impossibility of truly selfless memoir, make for compelling reading: as rich in unlikely yet fascinating plot twists as any of Shakespeare's plays, with just the right amount of realistic detail and irony to keep it from slipping into bathos or academic exercise.

Above all else, The Tragedy of Arthur is a reminder that ideas and emotions remain inextricable. The fictional Arthur thinks Shakespeare is an over-praised writer, and makes what seem like fair arguments for that position. But this rejection of Shakespeare is also a rejection of his unreliable, capricious father; as Arthur's twin sister puts, in a speech that is perhaps too thematically blunt, "You're the first person ever to suffer from a double oedipal complex, and one of your dads is four hundred years old." Likewise, the academic specialists who pronounce for or against the play's authenticity offer specific claims, but at heart their belief is based on something intangible, on that sense of Shakespeare's fingerprint that every reader of the poet-playwright knows and few if any can describe. Who is right, about Shakespeare's merit, about the play, about a flim-flam father's love? Like any good post-modern novel, The Tragedy of Arthur abjures answers, but deserves praise for the dazzling way it poses the question.
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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
This review is from: The Tragedy of Arthur: A Novel (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.
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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
By 
Gina Pell (San Francisco, CA<P>San Francisco, CA United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Tragedy of Arthur: A Novel (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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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant confection, May 17, 2011
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This review is from: The Tragedy of Arthur: A Novel (Hardcover)
The Tragedy of Arthur should hit every "best" list at the end of the year. It is a sparkling confection of a novel that on every page challenges you to question the authenticity of Phillips as author and character in his own story. I got lost in the story, and often felt that I was reading a real memoir; the characters are vivid and well-drawn, if perhaps occasionally preternaturally articulate, particularly the narrator's sister, Dana. Even if Phillips had not included the deft pastiche called "The Tragedy of Arthur," the "introduction" by the narrator would be one of the season's best books. The combination is a work of the highest literary order. Buy it and read it.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A remarkably credible Renaissance tragedy which will keep readers guessing, May 11, 2011
By 
Bookreporter (New York, New York) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Tragedy of Arthur: A Novel (Hardcover)
Reading Arthur Phillips's THE TRAGEDY OF ARTHUR is like trying to decipher a code. Or, maybe more accurately, trying to solve one of those maddening tavern puzzles that require you to shift your existing mindset entirely in order to grasp the unexpected solution.

Phillips, who has made a name for himself (at least in critical circles) for being both a brilliantly inventive novelist and an even more brilliant mimic, comes into his own in THE TRAGEDY OF ARTHUR, a novel that blends the genres of memoir and fiction even as it generates a reasonable imitation of a Shakespearean tragedy.

The conceit (broadly speaking) is this: Arthur Phillips (the novelist) has been asked to write an introduction to Shakespeare's long-lost play, brought to the light of day --- and potential scholarship --- by Phillips's own family. The introduction, however, soon takes on a life of its own, as what begins as an academic exercise soon delves deeply into (ostensibly) Phillips's own family history, which includes his experience of growing up with a Shakespeare-loving twin sister named Dana, a long-suffering mother, and a father whose own artistic aspirations have long since been subsumed under crimes of forgery, trespassing, and more.

"I admit that this seems a long way from an Introduction to a newly discovered Shakespeare play," Phillips writes. "This essay is fast becoming an example of that most dismal genre, the memoir. All I can say is that the truth of the play requires understanding the truth of my life."

Of course, this isn't really a memoir, but Phillips keeps readers guessing --- not only about his own family origins but also concerning the origins of Shakespeare's plays. Dana, who becomes a committed "anti-Stratfordian" after one too many paternal betrayals, comes up with an explanation for the plays' authorship(s) that's just wacky enough to seem kind of believable.

But what of the play itself? Is it an elaborate forgery? Or a wayward father's misbegotten gift to his children? Is it genius, or merely pastiche? Readers will ask themselves these questions as Arthur Phillips (the author) moves toward and away from Arthur Phillips (the character) and all those who surround him.

Along the way, the novel delves into countless of Shakespeare's own themes and concerns, explored both obviously and obliquely. Phillips may not be Shakespeare's biggest fan --- his disdain for the Bard, or at least for the Bard's unexamined reputation, is a running theme throughout the book --- but he certainly is well-versed in Shakespeare, both in his ability to construct a remarkably credible Renaissance tragedy and in his ability to bring Shakespeare's world to bear on contemporary tragedies of all sorts and sizes. Playful, maddening, complicated and elusive, THE TRAGEDY OF ARTHUR cements Arthur Phillips's reputation as a novelist who's both staggeringly well-read and brilliantly inventive.

--- Reviewed by Norah Piehl
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Alas, poor Arthur; I knew him not at all, March 30, 2011
This review is from: The Tragedy of Arthur: A Novel (Hardcover)
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This delightful metafiction narrative traces the life of novelist Arthur Phillips as he struggles with his own mercurial personality in the face of his father's incarceration for fraud and his twin sister's obsession with Shakespeare. The novel comes complete with the transcript for the play "The Tragedy of Arthur," purportedly a lost Shakespeare play now magically reappearing thanks, perhaps, to Phillips' father, also Arthur Phillips. Phillips returns to the games he started in The Egyptologist and plays off his recurring themes of artistic obsession, fraud and unrequited love. The big question looming over the whole text, the one posed by Harold Bloom, is whether we invented Shakespeare (why him and not Dekker or one of the lost Elizabethan playwrights?) or whether Shakespeare invented us. Phillips' occasionally hilarious prose (let loose through the style of a mock memoir) makes the "introduction" all the more appealing. It's up to you if you're going to read the "Shakespeare" play, but at least skim through the footnotes.
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33 of 45 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Two parts self-indulgent memoir, one part ingenious Shakespearean forgery, April 9, 2011
This review is from: The Tragedy of Arthur: A Novel (Hardcover)
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"The Tragedy of Arthur" purportedly presents a lost and heretofore unknown play by William Shakespeare, "The Most Excellent and Tragical Historie of Arthur, King of Britain." A 1597 quarto of the play falls into the hands of the novelist, Arthur Phillips, who writes the introduction for the play's new publication.

The author of "The Tragedy of Arthur" is, in fact, Arthur Phillips. His fictionalized self is given a copy of the lost Shakespearean play by his father. Unfortunately, integrity is not his father's strongest attribute. Is the work legitimate or simply another in a long line of his father's forgeries? The rambling introduction (two-thirds of the book) is ostensibly his explanation of how the book came into his possession and what he makes of its authenticity. More accurately, however, it is an examination of the relationships between Arthur, his twin sister, Dana, and their father, also named Arthur.

The introductory memoir playfully blurs the lines between the real Arthur Phillips and his fictitious counterpart. He writes with profound self-awareness, dissecting his every motivation (and not his alone, but his father's and sister's as well). Unfortunately, his self-consciousness becomes self-obsession; his self-deprecation becomes self-pity and loathing. Despite his keen insight and wisdom in judging his thoughts and actions and those of others, he seems incapable of improving or maturing. Such ubiquitous self-awareness absent self-control is just so much tedium, just another means and expression of stroking one's own ego. Thus the inevitable tragedy of the Arthurs (and Dana) is really self-destruction. Patience and empathy for the characters are sorely tested.

Moving past the self-indulgent introduction, however, Arthur Phillips brilliantly succeeded in writing an authentic Elizabethan tragedy. Much of Shakespeare's form is carefully imitated. The plot is captivating. As a young man, Arthur is notoriously slave to his lusts. Once crowned King of England, he fights to unite Britain. Later, eschewing political expedience for desire, he weds Guenhera who fails to produce an heir and whose influence at court is largely unwelcome to the nobles. Mordred, King of Pictland, makes a desperate grab for power. As the title suggests, tragedy ensues.

While Phillips does offhandedly include insightful commentary on Shakespearean criticism and scholarship, it is meager. For the author, the deconstruction of the familial relationships was paramount. For this reader, however, the play's the thing.

In the mock preface to the book, "The Editors" advise general readers to skip the introduction in favor of the play itself. That's not bad advice. The introduction merits two stars, the play four. Thus they average to a total of three.
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The Tragedy of Arthur: A Novel
The Tragedy of Arthur: A Novel by Arthur Phillips (Hardcover - April 19, 2011)
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