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The Egyptologist: A Novel Paperback – May 24, 2005
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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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Many passages are much too long, which makes the book feel unending. worse is that the book takes the form of a detective novel, but the pieces fall into place much too soon, which compounds the feeling that it is overlong. Worst is that the characters are badly developed and unlikeable.
There are, however, a few things to like in this book, Arthur Philips has interesting ideas and a sense of humor, but I cannot recommend reading the entire novel for a handful of worthwhile scenes.
This is a wonderful, fun, suspenseful novel whose thrills last up until the last page--and then beyond. There are so many things to figure out about this book that there's no way you can "get it" half-way through.
And if one of your criteria for a book's value is that it have sympathetic characters or characters you can "identify" with, you maybe had better stick to sweeter, more childish fare, such as "Peter the Rabbit" or maybe "Peyton Place."
I wonder how many people read the acknowledgements at the end of the book and recognized Vivian Darkbloom, just for starters. That should give you ample warning that this is not going to be an easy read. Very bold of Mr. Phillips to so openly acknowledge his debt to Vivian, though good readers will of course recognize the debt early on in the novel, so the question becomes, can Mr. Phillips live up to such an illustrious example, and do it without coming off as a second-rate (or worse) imitator? I believe the answer is yes, and I congratulate him and thank him for one of the best reading experiences I've had in a very long time.
I'm tempted, of course, to ask if readers figured out this, that or the other about various aspects of the novel, but as "Vivian" herself once said, it's so embarrassing to point these things out. And then one finally needs to learn to read on one's own.
I will only say that from what I've read of the many reviews, no one seems to have figured out some of the most basic mysteries of the book. Yes, it is very much a detective story, but most readers seem to be little versions of the detective character in the novel, thinking they have it all wrapped up when they really haven't figured out anything at all.