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Hedy Reviews “The Tragedy of Arthur”

By Library Staff

Phillips is an extremely clever and creative writer.  Even though the character is this novel is also a novelist named Arthur Phillips, it’s not supposed to be autobiographical.  The plot concerns the main character’s con artist father who’s been in and out of jail all his life.  His last gift to his children is a newly discovered play, “The Tragedy of Arthur”, written by none other than William Shakespeare himself.  Random House publishing company snaps it up, has it tested in all sorts of ways for authenticity, and expects to make a fortune.  Arthur, who will make the most money, has his doubts.  He feels like his father has never come through for him ever before, so why now?  But he’s under contract to write an introduction to the play, so he does, somewhat begrudgingly.  The introduction is what makes up the greater part of this novel, being 2 1/2 times as long as the play it introduces.  The play has the exact formatting of the series called the Arden Shakespeare, some volumes of which we have in our library if you’d like to compare.

In this introduction, Phillips writes of “that most dismal genre”, redemptive memoirs, even as his own novel sounds much like a memoir.  He mentions James Frey’s “A Million Little Pieces” (362.2909 FR) which was originally published as nonfiction.  Perhaps all writing is a sort of con job.  Authors convince us of their own realities.

Phillips made me laugh sometimes and I always appreciate that.  You remember that Shakespeare wrote in iambic pentameter?  Well, in a poem for English class, Arthur wrote in “anarchic randometer”.  And here he is on an airplane: “I sat far in the back…trapped between two enraged and tormented babies and the useless adults who sighed beneath them.”  So observant.

So if you’re in the mood for something unusual–and especially if you love Shakespeare–you might give it a try.

FIC PHIL (also CDBOOK) “The Tragedy of Arthur” by Arthur Phillips, 2011, 380 pages