Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Book Review: The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips

Phillips, Arthur. The Tragedy of Arthur: A Novel. New York: Random House, 2011. 

This delightful metafiction narrative traces the life of novelist Arthur Phillips as he struggles with his own mercurial personality in the face of his father's incarceration for fraud and his twin sister's obsession with Shakespeare. The novel comes complete with the transcript for the play "The Tragedy of Arthur," purportedly a lost Shakespeare play now magically reappearing thanks, perhaps, to Phillips' father, also Arthur Phillips. Phillips returns to the games he started in The Egyptologist and plays off his recurring themes of artistic obsession, fraud and unrequited love.  The big question looming over the whole text, the one posed by Harold Bloom, is whether we invented Shakespeare (why him and not Dekker or one of the lost Elizabethan playwrights?) or whether Shakespeare invented us. Phillips' occasionally hilarious prose (let loose through the style of a mock memoir) makes the "introduction" all the more appealing. It's up to you if you're going to read the "Shakespeare" play, but at least skim through the footnotes.

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