Saturday, February 4, 2012

DNF (Did Not Finish): The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips


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 is raised in an enchanted world of smoke and mirrors where the only unshifting truth is his father’s and his beloved twin sister’s deep and abiding love for the works of William Shakespeare—a love so pervasive that Arthur becomes a writer in a misguided bid for their approval and affection.

Years later, Arthur’s father, imprisoned for decades and nearing the end of his life, shares with Arthur a treasure he’s kept secret for half a century: a previously unknown play by Shakespeare, titled The Tragedy of Arthur. But Arthur and his sister also inherit their father’s mission: to see the play published and acknowledged as the Bard’s last great gift to humanity. . . .

Unless it’s their father’s last great con.

By turns hilarious and haunting, this virtuosic novel—which includes Shakespeare’s (?) lost King Arthur play in its five-act entirety—captures the very essence of romantic and familial love and betrayal. The Tragedy of Arthur explores the tension between storytelling and truth-telling, the thirst for originality in all our lives, and the act of literary mythmaking, both now and four centuries ago, as the two Arthurs—Arthur the novelist and Arthur the ancient king—play out their individual but strangely intertwined fates.

About the Author

Arthur Phillips was born in Minneapolis and educated at Harvard. He has been a child actor, a jazz musician, a speechwriter, a dismally failed entrepreneur, and a five-time Jeopardy! champion.

His first novel, Prague, was named a New York Times Notable Book, and received The Los Angeles Times/Art Seidenbaum Award for best first novel. His second novel, The Egyptologist, was an international bestseller, and was on more than a dozen “Best of 2004” lists. Angelica, his third novel, made The Washington Post best fiction of 2007 and led that paper to call him "One of the best writers in America."  The Song Is You was a New York Times Notable Book, on the Post's best of 2009 list, and inspired Kirkus to write, "Phillips still looks like the best American novelist to have emerged in the present decade."

His fifth book, The Tragedy of Arthur, was published April, 2011, to critical acclaim, including being named a New York Times Notable Book.

The play taken from that book received its world premiere reading at New York's Public Theater in 2011 and is being developed for a full stage production.

His work has been published in twenty-seven languages, and is the source of three films currently in development with Endgame Entertainment, Focus Films, and Cinetic.

He is also creating a series for HBO/Pretty Matches Productions, and has two other television pilots in development.

He lives in New York with his wife and two sons.

Check out his website here
Check out his profile on Jeopardy here
Find him on Twitter

My Thoughts

I have never much liked Shakespeare. I find the plays more pleasant to read than to watch, but I could do without him, up to and including this unstoppable and unfortunate book. I know that is not a very literary or learned thing to confess, but there it is.
Normally "My Thoughts" would consist of my review of the book read. However I could not finish this one. I only made it about 47 pages into this book. And, just to lend more strangeness to this story, at 47 pages in I was still reading the "introduction" to the book. This book is almost 370 pages long, of which 250+ pages is an "Introduction" by the author, and the remaining 120 pages is the "lost play" of Shakespeare. 

The "introduction" is...I don't know. I couldn't get through it. It is a self-absorbed man's ramblings of his childhood and past, and everything leading up to...well, like I said, I couldn't get through it. I'm still not sure what it led up to. The book ends with a play that is supposed to have been written by Shakespeare, but there seemed to be confusion among the book club members whether the play even really existed. This is like watching one of those movies about a movie about a movie. It's hard to sort out what is reality and what is fiction. What is the actual past of the author, and what is the fictional life of a character lost in his own head?

One good thing that came from this book was that our book club had a very interesting and lively discussion of the book and author. Here are a few things that came out of our discussion:
  • Some said they felt as if the author was making fun of the reader, seeing how much he could lure people into this farce that was a parody of a memoir.
  • The line between reality and fantasy is totally blurred in this book. You simply don't know how much is real, how much of it is truly a memoir of the author's life, and how much is complete fantasy.
  • He has a creepy and almost incestuous relationship with his twin sister. (In an attempt to explain their relationship, he states on page 47: "And all along I dreamt of being Dana's...what? Not her lover-- this is not a report of rank incest-- but I dreamt of being something indescribably close, perfectly joined, soulmated beyond the possibility of any rupture or misunderstanding.")
  • Someone said that the book is being made into a play.
  • Many said that they aren't stupid, but they felt stupid reading this book, because they just didn't get it. This book made it onto the bestseller's list, had fantastic reviews, and everyone in our club found themselves reading it and thinking, "Am I just stupid? Because I just don't get it!"
  • One woman said that throughout the book she kept thinking that each of us, if you were to break down our lives into our triumphs and tragedies, would be worthy of a Shakespearean play.
  • One girl said that she read the book at work, and she finally put the book down and said she'd rather work!
So the book didn't go over well with our book club, but we all really loved the discussion regarding the book and the author. Many in the club felt that someone may enjoy this book more if they really love Shakespeare. I was doubtful of this, as I do actually like some Shakespeare, until one of the members (the same one who made the remark about all of us being worthy of being in a Shakespearean play) explained to everyone a lot of background on Shakespeare, his life, and the way he used names in his plays (i.e. Juliet being a "jewel", while Rosalind was "beautiful yet thorny"). It made you kind of wish you knew these details about Shakespeare going into this book, and realizing that you may have picked up on little details if you had.

A couple of our book club members enjoyed the book. No one really loved it, but I think a couple rated it a "B". Most of the members didn't finish the book. One girl said that she absolutely hated it and thought it was the worst book she'd ever tried to read (she made it through page 51).

My personal take on this book? When I was trying to think of how to describe this book, what immediately came to mind was "tedious". Trudging through the minutia of his childhood, having to reside in his brain, as he (Is "he" just a character? Or the actual author? We don't know!) is self-absorbed and lives in his head. He is the main player and everyone is in his life is secondary and tertiary characters, or as someone in the club said, "They are all just living on the periphery of his world." In his world, all the other characters are inconsequential.

The other words that came to my mind when describing this book were languid, rambling, and just plain boring.

But don't let this stop you! This book had a lot of great reviews. The critics loved it! Particularly if you love Shakespeare, go ahead and give this one a shot. You may love it!

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