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The Tragedy of Arthur

3.44  ·  Rating details ·  2,870 ratings  ·  519 reviews
The Tragedy of Arthur is an emotional and elaborately constructed tour de force from bestselling and critically acclaimed novelist Arthur Phillips, “one of the best writers in America” (The Washington Post).

Its doomed hero is Arthur Phillips, a young man struggling with a larger-than-life father, a con artist who works wonders of deception but is a most unreliable parent. Arthur(The
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published April 19th 2011 by Random House (first published 2011)
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Apr 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: best-of-2011
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
Jason Furman
Aug 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, novel
Arthur Phillips is our most reliable creator of unreliable narrators. And in the case of this book, it is "Arthur Phillips" himself who narrates. That is the "Arthur Phillips" who is the author of Prague, The Egyptologist, Angelica, The Song Is You, as well as the discoverer of what may be a newly discovered Shakespeare play: The Tragedy of Arthur.

The book begins with a short preface from "Random House", followed by an Introduction to the newly discovered play by "Arthur Phillips," a
Jun 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The best book I've read this year, and well worth a review: I shall write one when this damn essay is finished. In the meantime, read this book.

*Time Passes*

I found The Tragedy of Arthur in the ‘classics’ section of my local bookshop. This, possibly, is a bit presumptuous. Arthur is a play by William Shakespeare that may not have been written by William Shakespeare. All the tests, all the critics, all the academics say that this lost work, now found, is a miracle. They attest that something so
Dec 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, ebooks, 2012
The Tragedy of Arthur is a title with a double meaning. In one sense it refers to a lost Shakespearean play of that name and in the other it refers to the narrator of the tale, someone who may or may not be the novelist Arthur Phillips. Like the real Arthur Phillips, the fictional Arthur Phillips grew up in Minnesota, has lived in Prague, has written a novel named after that city. The fictional Arthur has a father was was a con man possessed of wild and grandiose schemes who spends much of his life in ...more
Oct 27, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: book-group
Good book, well written, enjoyable, and thought provoking. Shakespeare pervades this book, so it is probably mostly of interest to those who like Shakespeare or are at least interested in Shakespeare.

There were some things about this book I did not like: 1) I found the first chunk of it very rough going because I hated the narrator and thought he was whiney. In fact, the narrator uses that word, "whine," more than once about himself, possibly three times or more. Telling. Around the time the na
May 27, 2013 rated it it was ok
When I’ve described this novel to friends, it’s always sounded interesting. That’s strange because I actually struggled to finish it, and only did so out of a sense of duty and respect to the person who enthusiastically bestowed it on me. It’s another in that line of novels that masquerades as a memoir of the protagonist who shares the same name as the author - Arthur Phillips. The memoirist Arthur Philips has a twin sister Dana whom he claims to love above all others despite the fact that he ca ...more
Nov 08, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is odd. It is set up as a memoir, but it's not. The author takes a fictional account of his family and includes the Arthur legend in it with some Shakespeare thrown in. It shouldn't have worked, but honestly the book as a whole really does work if you read the play first (it's in the back) and work back through the fictional introduction by the author talking about him wanting to show the world about his father. And as we know about the Arthur legend, it is ultimately a tale of fathers ...more
Victor Carson
I see that I am in the small minority of readers who dislikes this novel. I also admit that I did not read the play itself after suffering through the author's Introduction. The pace of the book is very slow, endlessly repetitive, and self-absorbed, like the fictional author who shares his name with the actual author of this book. The idea of writing a fictional memoir, using your own name and some real facts about your own life is bizarre, bordering on ridiculous. No publisher would have put up ...more
Roger Brunyate
May 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sui-generis
Clever, clever… maybe too clever

Think, for a moment, of a novel as a painting. You have the central subject: a picture of human beings living their rich, messy, and often complicated lives. You have the means by which the artist puts this across: his choice of medium, his style, his handling of paint or language. And then you have the frame: the structure that holds everything together, that comes between the artifact and the real world. For a long time in my reading, I thought I was dealing
Jul 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
The structure of this novel is odd and intriguing. It begins with a preface allegedly provided by the publisher, Random House, but which is clearly part of the narrative and the conceit that the author is using. The book’s very title is, of course, part of the imaginative content, the first person unreliable narrator having the same name as the true author, and “The Tragedy of Arthur” being the title of a recently discovered Shakespearean play, that very title having several possible interpretat ...more
switterbug (Betsey)
Mar 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing
You don't have to be a Shakespeare scholar to feast on this book. To wit, whether you love, like, devour, admire, or even scorn Shakespeare, you can easily negotiate your way through this accessible "problem play" and trundle along with page-turning merriment. By the final pages of this faux memoir/novel/play, you will have also amassed a literate and impressive font of Bardology.

You'll acquaint with the big hits and the B side of the Bard. You'll learn facts about his peerage, his years, the s
Feb 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: fans of Shakespeare, and people who hate Shakespeare, and people who love Arthur Phillips
I love everything about this book. The official setup of the book is that Random House is publishing a recently discovered Shakespeare play about King Arthur (fully authenticated by all legitimate scholars and forensic tests), and the man who found it has died, so they ask his son (Arthur Phillips, a famous-enough novelist) to write an introduction. The problem is that Arthur Phillips knows that his dad was a spectacular con artist, and he's convinced that this play is his father's greatest con, ...more
May 27, 2011 rated it liked it
When I reviewed Arthur Phillips's last novel The Song Is You, I faulted Phillips for filtering the central relationship (a love affair that never quite happens) through a series of moments that felt a little more sentimentalized than actually lived. In the new The Tragedy of Arthur Phillips takes a sharp left turn into the personal by way of metafiction. What we are reading is supposedly Phillips's introduction to the first publication of a newly discovered Shakespeare play about King Arthur. Th ...more
Emily Leathers
Jan 28, 2011 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: readers who have enjoyed other Arthur Phillips novels
Recommended to Emily by: First Reads
Shelves: first-reads
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 24, 2015 rated it it was ok
Too clever by half. A supposed lost early play of the Bard is discovered--by Arthur's father, a con man, who has spent most of his life in jail, for, among other forgeries, faking lottery tickets, making crop circles. The play is given to Arthur, his son and narrator of the Introduction. Is this drama really by Shakespeare, or is it a fake? To me the play itself was a pastiche of the history plays and of Macbeth, thrown together in a jumble. Random House, Arthur's publisher, insists on its publi ...more
Marjorie Hakala
Jan 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
So here is a novel in a shape I've never seen before:

1. A brief preface from Random House stating how excited they are to publish this brand new Shakespeare play, alluding to the role of the Phillips family in bringing the text to light, and suggesting that maybe we should go straight to the play and come back to Arthur Phillips' introduction later.

2. A 256-page "Introduction" about Arthur Phillips and his family and how his father came to leave him a quarto of The Traged
Jan 26, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-2011
Disclaimer: I won this from First Reads.

Well, I think this book's saving grace is the inclusion of the play itself because it turns out that Phillips doing a mediocre imitation of Shakespeare is much better than Phillips doing himself. I decided to treat this as I would a real WS play and, at the urging of the fake preface by Random House, I read the text of the play before reading the 250+ pages of "introduction". I'm glad I did. The play, which I'll refer to as The Tragedie to simplify things, is cha
Apr 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing
There are a whole lot of Arthurs in The Tragedy of Arthur. There's the author, Arthur Phillips, the main character, Arthur, his father Arthur, King Arthur and a long lost Arthur. That last one is the second of the two tragedies of Arthur. In that list there's the lost Shakespearean play about King Arthur and the tragedies of all the other Arthurs who appear in the novel. Got it? Good because it's worth getting.

For the moment let's concentrate on the character Arthur. He was raised by
The Tragedy of Arthur by William Shakespeare: The First Modern Edition of His Lost Play, with an Introduction and Notes by Arthur Phillips by Arthur Phillips was not at all what I expected. Which is funny since I love Phillips' work and know enough to not set up any expectations. He works in his own way and it is rarely the way anyone else works. It's better.

The synopsis of the story presents the protagonist as (naturally) Arthur Phillips the narrator (as separate from? Or supposedly identical to? t
Apr 21, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: stopped-reading
Hmm. So I LOVE Phillips' "The Egyptologist." It is one of my all-time favorite books, but I haven't loved anything else by him... haven't even really liked most of his other novels. This one is more intriguing, and his indebtedness to Nabokov is even clearer in this book than in "The Egyptologist," in which he explicitly tips his hat to Nabokov and "Pale Fire" specifically. The narrator of "The Tragedy of Arthur" reminds me of "Lolita's" Humbert Humbert at times. The structure of the novel is si ...more
Mar 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
OKAY. So, I really enjoyed this book. I liked the literary-fiction-esqu-ness of the writing style. Phillips impressed me many times with his use of language—his sentences, even if not “fun” in content, were playful and artful in structure. I spent more time reading this than I generally do other fiction books because I wanted to appreciate (and learn from) Phillips’ style (also i had a bad cold for a few days while reading and couldn’t make much progress, so).

Other Thoughts:
- I believe th
Alex Bledsoe
May 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
I waited until I'd finished to find out if "Arthur Phillips," the character in the novel, was the same as "Arthur Phillips," the novelist. You'd think that, in an ostensible memoir (despite being called a novel on the cover), it would be taken for granted that they're the same, but here, you can't be sure. That's because a big part of this book is that neither the reader nor the characters can ever be entirely certain what constitutes the truth. It's a romp, with its serious themes never intrudi ...more
Apr 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Possibly the most brilliantly structured book I've ever read. Really a 4.5 stars for me. I'm awed by the genius that went into creating a believable Shakespeare play and how the themes in the introduction are approached, but I also didn't get the same gut feeling that I usually get when I finish a 5-star book.
Sean Holland
Apr 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A piece of staggering genius. Almost impossibly good. Right up there with Infinite Jest in terms of execution and overall brilliance, and one of the few books that justifies postmodernism's bullshit.
Arthur Phillips is a genius.
Laura Whichello
Oct 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book earned all five stars - an amazingly smart novel, both funny and poignant, and as an added bonus the play is truly an achievement as well. Definitely will be in the top five of books read this year.
The play is terrific; the idea of the whole project, genius; the novel section (or “Introduction”), overwrought and often ludicrous.
Aug 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is a very clever book. Arthur Phillips created a "Shakespearean play" and created a "Shakespeare scholar" to provide scholarly footnotes to the fake play. His introduction is actually a novella, the story of a writer named Arthur Phillips who was named after his father, a professional forger.

Reading the Shakespearean play is a hoot. Arthur Phillips -- who, in this situation, is difficult to refer to because he is the author, the main character and the forger -- is a bright man.
Jan 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books-i-own, fiction
In his funniest novel to date, Arthur Phillips ("Prague", "The Egyptologist", "Angelica", "The Song Is You"), pokes fun at the genre of memoir and of Shakespearean scholarship in his irresistible "The Tragedy of Arthur", which allegedly one William Shakespeare wrote as a play that was left out of the 1597 Folio edition of his plays; those recognizable to anyone familiar with Shakespeare's oeuvre. Pulling no punches, Phillips casts himself as the befuddled famous literary son of his father, the a ...more
Jan 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed
The Tragedy of Arthur is a Comedy of Lies. I recommend it very highly. It takes Shakespeare as its context, and forgery and truth-telling as its subject, and bends the reader's mind around an infinite regress of fictions purporting to be realities. How so? Read on if you want the semi-spoiled version - I don't think it will take anything away from your pleasure in reading the book.

Arthur Phillips, the author, writes in the first person of a character named Arthur Phillips, who is the
Rebecca H.
Apr 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
Arthur Phillips’s new novel The Tragedy of Arthur was great fun. I’ve seen comparisons of this book to Nabokov’s Pale Fire, and the comparison works to a certain extent — they have a similar structure, both made up of a primary text and a commentary on that text — but it’s a rather unfortunate comparison for Phillips’s sake because who can compare to the great Nabokov? This book doesn’t have the insane brilliance of Pale Fire, but there’s a charm and wit to it that are appealing.

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