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The Egyptologist: A Novel Paperback – May 24, 2005

3.3 out of 5 stars 163 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This recording of Phillips's maddeningly suspenseful novel of death, betrayal and morbid self-absorption features outstanding performances by all of the narrators involved. Told through letters, journal entries and telegrams, the book features arrogant British explorer Ralph M. Trilipush; his gadabout American fiancée, Margaret Finneran; and a sardonic Australian detective named Harold Ferrell, who becomes entwined with them both. While the book is told alternately from their three points of view, Trilipush commands the majority of the story, and Prebble's portrayal of him is spot on. The only problem is that he does such a fine job of capturing Trilipush's smug, overbearing attitude that it's difficult to listen to him for long stretches. The episodes told from Ferrell's perspective become welcome respites, and Negroponte's Australian accent is as sharp as the character's purported powers of observation. But Ferrell proves to be only slightly less conceited than Trilipush, and certainly no more reliable. Though the book's many clues are revealed as slowly as artifacts buried beneath the Egyptian sands, this excellent production will pleasantly tease listeners until all is unveiled—even if the main guide is one of the more unlikable characters in recent fiction.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

From The New Yorker

This witty second novel plays with fire—"Pale Fire," that is—by daring to appropriate the scheme of Nabokov's cleverest novel. In both books, a deranged scholar, laying out a putatively brilliant yet comically improbable thesis, gradually reveals his own bitterness and delusions of grandeur. It's immediately obvious that Ralph M. Trilipush—an obscure Egyptologist who claims to have discovered the tomb of an unknown yet visionary Pharaoh—is off his rocker. The fun comes in the way his megalomania mirrors the temperament of supposedly levelheaded scholars. (He engages in hilariously pedantic combat with the man who found King Tut's tomb.) Phillips is nearly as deft as Nabokov at parodying the academic mind, and understands that his work must transcend mere homage. Unfortunately, he tricks up his plot by adding a dull detective who labors to expose Trilipush's lies, and by stealing a twist from "The Talented Mr. Ripley." The result is pastiche overload.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (May 24, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812972597
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812972597
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (163 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #673,281 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A. Maxham on September 27, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Negative reviews usually get dinged in the "helpfulness' department. I'll risk it anyway...At the very least I hope to be helpful even if you still want to read it- I'd at least like to adjust your expectations so you aren't as disappointed as I was/am.

I read the review for this in People magazine- I love books set among the pyramids, and the mystery/plot sounded intriguing. The review was really a rave, and seemed to imply that there might be some sort of a twist at the end...

Eh. There is. Well, there's supposed to be. But you figure it out pretty early on. An earlier reviewer here was generous and said you figure it out 1/2 through... but I don't think it takes that long. The book has a "get on w/ it" feel to it b/c you have it all figured out (even if you weren't really trying).

I don't think the intention is for you to figure it out. Instead, I think the dramatic tension is supposed to stem from the idea that you aren't (supposed to be) sure what happened to the missing (assumed murdered) people. But you are. So you are sorta bored.

This is a side note, but there isn't a single likable character in the entire story. This doesn't necessarily kill a story, but w/ a relatively nonmysterious mystery, little depth of Egypt in the 20s, and unlikable people... there's not much to root for. I had to force myself to finish it to see if I was missing something.

I wasn't.

If you want mysteries w/ some pretty good details of Egyptology, the Amelia Peabody series is amusing. It's certainly not high art (more light reading), but more interesting than this book.
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Format: Hardcover
Letters, diaries, and journal entries are used to winning effect in Arthur Phillips' second novel following the much-praised "Prague." Let's get this over with-I hated "Prague". Really hated it. But "The Egyptologist" could not be more different. This is a delightful book, full of complex, flawed, unreliable characters who keep you glued to the page as you try to figure out what in heaven's name they're up to. Add lots of interesting archeological and ancient Egyptian lore, good 1920's period settings, and a great ending, and you have quite a treat in store.

As Howard Carter is discovering King Tut's fabulous tomb, Ralph Trilipush is over the next sand dune digging for the tomb of King Atum-hadu, whose hieroglyphic [slick stuff] (translated with great vigor) obsesses him. Ralph is staking his professional reputation and his fiancée's considerable fortune on finding this tomb, and in fact, may have knocked several people off to get to it. At least, that's the belief of an intrepid Australian detective who is traveling the world looking for a murderer, or maybe a serial murder, or maybe even Ralph Trilipush. The layered construction gives Phillips plenty of opportunity for narrative shenanigans and he relishes them all.

I try to avoid comparing books, but the satisfaction I got from "The Egyptologist" reminded of the pleasure of reading A. S. Byatt's "Possession." No, the books are not similar and no, this is not another "Possession", but Phillips has the same respect for his readers' intelligence and he expects you to be able to hang on for the hairpin turns. The result is a smart, teasing, clever, and highly enjoyable novel.
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Format: Hardcover
The Egyptologist was heading straight for a two rating until the last 40 pages or so and while I'm not sure I can recommend the book just to get to that ending, I will say the writing (if not the plot outcome which was a bit predictable) redeemed the book, though only to a point. The story is told through several layering devices: diaries, journals, and letters by the Egyptologist Ralph Trilipush and letters by the Australian detective Harold Ferrell who is trying to prove Trilipush to be at best a fraud and at worst a murderer. Neither narrator is reliable, adding some more layers of complexity to the story, as well as some humor.

The basic story is that Trilipush has convinced his fiancee's father to bankroll (at some risk to himself) his amateur dig in Egypt to find the tomb of Atum-hadu, the king-pornographic poet who may or may not have existed. Round the corner from his own dig and working on his own relatively minor and sure to be disappointing excavation (according to Trilipush) is Howard Carter (the tomb is King Tut's). Meanwhile, in a more complicated side-story, Ferrel is digging up (sorry) Trilipush's own past, or at least trying to, both for his own reasons and for various clients who have differing reasons of their own. Mixed into this are several strange disappearances, missing or falsified records, professional jealousies, etc.

The book starts of quite well, an enjoyable and interesting ride, both for the characters and the egyptology. But it slows greatly through the middle and there were several times I debated whether it was worth picking up and continuing.
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Format: Paperback
This book is one of the best I've ever read, if not the best.

I wanted to chime in with an observation, because I was surprised to see that so many people were disappointed by this book because they were able to figure out the twist early on, and knew what happened to the missing characters almost from the beginning.

Here's why that surprised me: if you *don't* figure those things out, you miss the entire point of the book, and there's no way you can enjoy what the story is actually about. This book isn't about the mystery of Paul Caldwell. Rather, it's a masterful exploration of self-delusion, self-deception, and how we create the things we need to believe about ourselves in order to get through our lives. Some of the characters don't realize they are lying to themselves. Some do (or do they?). But to a degree, they all (as do we all) see things that aren't there.

My book club read and discussed this book. Three of the members thought this book was about the mystery, and didn't like it. Three thought it was about an exploration of how we filter and create our own realities, and loved it. By the end of the discussion, the first three said that now that they'd heard what the other three saw in it, they wanted to go back and re-read it again; they said that what we saw was a much more interesting side to the book, and that while they hadn't seen it at first, they wanted to explore it after hearing us talk about it.

So, based on their experience, I'm writing to pass that on to anyone who is on the fence about the book due to reading these reviews...If you go into this book looking for more than a mystery, you'll find a great read. If the themes I've talked about don't interest you, you may be disappointed. But otherwise, I think you'll find a lot to think about here.
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