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The Tragedy of Arthur: A Novel Hardcover – April 19, 2011

3.8 out of 5 stars 89 customer reviews

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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.)
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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

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (April 19, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400066476
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400066476
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (89 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,100,542 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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By Jill I. Shtulman TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 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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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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Format: 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.
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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 !
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