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The Egyptologist

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3.27  ·  Rating details ·  3,377 Ratings  ·  529 Reviews
This darkly comic labyrinth of a story opens on the desert plains of Egypt in 1922, then winds its way from the slums of Australia to the ballrooms of Boston by way of Oxford, the battlefields of the First World War, and a royal court in turmoil.

Just as Howard Carter unveils the tomb of Tutankhamun, making the most dazzling find in the history of archaeology, Oxford-educat
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Paperback, 396 pages
Published May 24th 2005 by Random House Trade (first published 2004)
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Community Reviews

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Jeff
Mar 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommended for Nabokov fans, amateur archeologists, opium addicts, people who address each other as “Ducks”.

The old “unreliable narrator” gambit. Taking the book as a whole, it’s easy to dismiss this book as a failed attempt at pulling off the conceit. As I was reading, it held together until about the final quarter of the book.

This is a funny, engaging book whose parts are better than the finished product and ultimately a engaging commentary on immortality and madness.
David Maine
Mar 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic book! One that operates on so many levels... Character study; satire; mystery/thriller. An Egyptologist goes off to find some legendary tomb shortly after WWI. Through his correspondence with his fiance (the daughter of his financier), we learn much about the man--maybe more than he would like us to know. Thirty years later, another set of correspondence from a provate investigator throws a different light on the situation.

This is one of those books that gets me wondering how on earth
...more
Tony
Aug 08, 2008 rated it it was ok
A mild recommendation.

An interesting scenario told in a brilliant format, with a disappointing ending. The dust jacket (as shown here on Goodreads), boasts of an unpredictable ending, but I (not the brightest or readers) saw it coming for at least half the book.

This is a story of two men. The first is an Australian detective hired to find the lost, bastard, child of an English philanderer. The second is the Egyptologist, Ralph M. Trilipush, who is leaving his professorship at Harvard to find t
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Travis
Sep 17, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I considered giving this four stars instead of five, but I'm bumping it up because I think the Goodreads average is ranked low primarily for the "I don't like the characters" reason or the "I guessed the ending" reason, and frankly, while the characters are not all that likable, they are complex and surprising and highly memorable, and while I guessed the ending, I was still surprised by how it came about and what it all meant. The Egyptologist tells a story about the impossible quest for immort ...more
Sarah Sammis
Jun 16, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: released
Imagine coming across a mound of papers scattered across a desk or perhaps dumped in a box. Imagine that these papers span decades and are letters, interviews, journals and other correspondence. Now imagine that the only way to make any sense of them is to pick up and read each and every page. Now you know what it's like to read The Egyptologist.

It's by no means an easy book to read. There are 416 pages of in a tiny typeface with no chapter breaks and no rhyme or reason to how the information is
...more
Guido Dewulf
May 05, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Ik heb het echt waar geprobeerd. 205 blz. om precies te zijn. Maar ik moet besluiten dat dit niks voor mij is. Een opeenvolging van brieven en dagboek fragmenten. Lange monologen met veelal informatie die niets ter zake doen. Het kan best dat mensen dit subliem vinden maar voor mij gaat het te traag, te weinig beweging in het boek. Vandaar maar 1 ster.
Sunil
Jan 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own, 2008, favorites
I heart unreliable narrators, and this book is full of 'em. Set in 1922, it tells the tale of Ralph Trilipush's quest to find the tomb of an apocryphal king/erotic poet named Atum-hadu (which translates to Atum-Is-Aroused). Amusingly, his expedition is concurrent with Howard Carter's discovery of the tomb of King Tut.

The story is mostly in the form of Ralph's journal, which he is specifically writing to document his findings to be published as a book. He also adds in loving messages to his fianc
...more
Kurt
Jul 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: patient and critical readers
This is a witty, heartbreaking, challenging novel about the nature of ambition and immortality and truth, and I loved every word of it. The novel is epistolary, presenting itself as a collection of two sets of documents: journal entries and letters from an archaeologist planning an expedition to Egypt in 1922, and letters from a detective writing in 1954 about an investigation that ties to this expedition. There are other letters sprinkled throughout to provide a few extra perspectives, but most ...more
Ron Charles
Nov 16, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Should you find yourself entombed in ancient Egypt, hope that your minions included a copy of Arthur Phillips's new novel among the gilded tools and ebony furniture. It'll make the time fly, and it's practically bright enough to read by its own light. "Yes, Ra, that Underworld sounds great, but I really want to get back to my book."

"The Egyptologist" is nothing like Phillips's bestselling debut, "Prague" (2002), and yet it's full of all the dazzling talent he showed there. Presented as a collect
...more
Charles Matthews
Dec 07, 2009 rated it really liked it
To describe his frenetic creation Wile E. Coyote, the great cartoonist Chuck Jones liked to quote the philosopher George Santayana: ''A fanatic is one who redoubles his effort when he has forgotten his aim.''

Ralph Trilipush, the title character of Arthur Phillips' novel ''The Egyptologist,'' is a bit like that. He doesn't get bonked with any anvils, but he has the Coyote's single-minded self-destructiveness, working himself deeper into a mess when the wiser course would be to cut and run.


''The
...more
Jane
One of the strangest pieces of fiction I've ever read, but enjoyable. This epistolary novel moves back and forth from 1922 Egypt and America and 1954 Sydney, Australia. It consists of entries in a journal of an archaeologist, Ralph Trilipush, on the track on the tomb of an obscure king, Atum hadu [Atum-is-Aroused] who has written erotic verse; letters and cables to and from his [Ralph's] betrothed; and correspondence from a retired detective, Ferrell, in an old folks' home in Sydney to a certain ...more
Matt
Mar 14, 2009 rated it it was ok
Phillips, whose work in his debut novel, Prague, gained much acclaim manages to string together a dull, predictable, overly verbose, and frustrating "mystery" novel in The Egyptologist. Having figured out what happened by the time the first third of the novel was over, I was left to slog through this remaining avalanche of words only to be provided with a tremendously unimaginative and thoroughly unsatisfying explanation of what happened.

And what a slog it was. Told exclusively through letters w
...more
Christian
Sep 23, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Brendan Fraser and Rachael Weisz
I must say, this was a very interesting work; it's very hard to discuss it without spoilers, so I'll try to be as vague as possible.

First off -- it's about Egypt (I know, shocking, right?). If you couldn't care less about Egypt, give this one a pass.

The book itself is extremely well-crafted. Meticulously so. This is a positive and a negative; on the positive side, it's engaging and easily appreciated. On the negative, it's a little too well-crafted for a book that is, in essence, simply letters
...more
Nancy
Dec 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is my second time reading this book and I think it's brilliant. I admit to being predisposed to it. I've read Howard Carter's three-volume work describing his discovery of the tomb of boy-pharaoh Tutankhamen twice too, never wanting that to end either. Here, Phillips gets it all right. What a perfect ear he has for the language, style, and cadences of that era. He captures it all, then turns it on its ear. The book is alternately witty, wise, darkly comic, achingly beautiful, wildly funny, ...more
Heidi
May 01, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Maggie
Wasn't sure what to expect from this book, but the synopsis sounded interesting. Once I started it, however, I was absolutely hooked. Set alternatively in the relative future (1960's, I believe) and the early 20th c., it is an epistolary novel that tells the story from two entirely (and usually contradictory) viewpoints: a young Egyptologist eager to make a name for himself even while Howard Carter is discovering the archeological find of a lifetime, and an Australian detective bent on finding a ...more
Christine
Jun 14, 2011 rated it it was ok
Yesterday on the plane back home to North Carolina I finished Arthur Phillips’ second novel, The Egyptologist. The book had been recommended to me by one of my mother’s friends, and reading the praise on the back and inside covers, nearly all of which mentioned Nabokov, I decided that it would be worth my time. Wrong. I am left wondering if any of those critics has actually read Vladimir Vladimirovich’s work. Phillips is very obviously, even painfully so, trying to be Nabokovian: unreliable narr ...more
Enraged Cat Person
May 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Arthur Phillips might be an evil genius; in real life the man is a Jeopardy! champion, after all!

If I hadn't known better, I'd absolutely believe that an aged Australian with a working-class chip on his shoulder, a troubled young American woman and others actually did exist, and that I actually read their letters. This ability to contort his voice so well by mixing up the vocabulary & the rhythms of his characters' speech so smoothly is part of this man's genius.

Another part of this genius
...more
Matt Gough
Apr 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This book had a lot of things going for it. For one, it was funny. I don't often laugh out loud when I read books, but I cracked up several times during the course of this one. The author has a tremendous knack for phrasing, and it's used to full advantage during the funnier parts of this novel. But, there's a whole lot more going on here. The story presents itself as a puzzle. We are given journals and letters from the characters, and the true mystery of the novel is trying to find out where th ...more
Nik
Mar 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Epic! This book is witty, hilarious and fascinating all at once. Takes a while to build up steam, but the reward is well worth it.

I suspect some of the negative reviews are the result of readers who didn't stick with it, readers who didn't quite realize what was going on, or readers who thought Phillips was trying too hard to be clever.

The book has multiple unreliable narrators who are constantly contradicting each other and sending letters across continents. In an interview, the author said one
...more
Suzanne
Sep 20, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Suzanne by: Nancy
4.5 - at least.

In Arthur Phillip’s brilliant and entertaining The Egyptologist, not one but two unreliable narrators weave epistolary narratives about related events in the 1920s. In these accounts, facts, suppositions, and obsessions, events and identities sift and shift like sands in the desert under a gentle but steady wind. This is at its heart a story about the desire for immortality, whether it’s through the building of a king’s monument, the writing of stories, or a millionaire’s propagat
...more
Mitch
Nov 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mystery, just-fiction
I've never read anything quite like this one...

First, structure. The narrative is divided between two main characters with occasional additions from others. This alone shows literary skill; the book is told in several different and distinct voices.

Second, the chronology has been gone at with an egg whisk. Back and forth we go until things finally start to line up. Sort of.

'Sort of' because absolutely each and every narrator and character is unreliable. Some of what they say is true and some of w
...more
John Pappas
Jan 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
At the heart of the academic satire, regardless of the particulars of the specific branch or discipline being satirized, lies the human propensity toward self-delusion, especially in regards to what is possible to know. Phillips nails this in his novel about an Egyptologist searching to prove the existence of Atum-hadu, a possibly fictitious Egyptian king. Told through multiple perspectives, all of whom are clueless but absolutely sure of their world-view, this novel demonstrates how easy it is ...more
Bookmarks Magazine

Don't trust any of the half-dozen voices in Phillip's second novel, a lighter but somehow deeper, more macabre work than his previous look at the Zeitgeist in 1990s Budapest. Phillips mixes fact and fiction to recreate a faux 1920s Egypt full of devious scenes, smart banter, and narrative tricks, particularly when examining hieroglyphics. Different voices and convoluted plots create a surprisingly deep novel about class, illusion, and immortality. Only the narration and ending raise questions; T

...more
Debra
Mar 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
Stephen King says: "Pathological liar of dubious identity goes bonkers while looking for a hidden tomb in the Egyptian desert after World War I. Tragic, pathetic, blackly funny...and with a strange, growing undercurrent of horror. You have never read a novel like it."


Stephen King said it all. Definitely worth the read. Hard to figure out what's the truth, which makes reading this kind of irritating and fun at the same time. Could have done without so much detail in the middle - could have cut o
...more
Cypress Butane
Jun 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
Great book. Great read. Exploring the ideas of truth, documentation, interpretation, self-creation, integrity, and legend and immortality through an enjoyable story about an Egyptology student, a troubled youth among communists and circus folks, the 'Tomb Paradox', a troubled marriage and an expedition to the sands of Egypt to unearth Atam-Hadu, the legendary, or perhaps apocryphal, Pharoah named for the aroused action which created the Gods of Egypt.

Written in epistolary format, definitely an e
...more
Heather Knight
Jan 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
A beautifully written mystery about an insane, egomaniacal archaeolgist. It's got a bit of a Pale Fire nod to it, but easier to parse than Nobokov. Very different than Phillips' first novel Prague, but perhaps even more enjoyable. Both novels deal with self-deception, but in vastly different ways.
Margie
Oct 03, 2007 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: no one
Shelves: fiction
This book was so bad I'd be willing to burn it. The main character is repellent, the twist in the plot is apparent way too early, and it's generally vile.
Mladen Milosavljević
Jul 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Great novel, written in epistolary format, For Which Stephen King says: "Pathological liar of dubious identity goes bonkers while looking for a hidden tomb in the Egyptian desert after World War I. Tragic, pathetic, blackly funny...and with a strange, growing undercurrent of horror. You have never read a novel like it."
If you've got any interest in ancient Egypt or Archeology, this book is a good read for you.
Susan
Apr 23, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
While the last twenty or so pages do wrap everything up nicely, I spent far too much of this book hating everyone. Everyone is lying or keeping secrets, and none of them seem like someone that you would like to know. I enjoy historical fiction, but I'd say this book is really more for those who love thrillers.
April
Jun 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
Fascinating! The book makes you figure out what happened from diaries, letters, telegrams, etc. And, some of the writers of the above have, shall we say, unexpected agendas. Quite the tour de force on Arthur Phillips part!
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