The Tragedy of Arthur is so much fun. It is deliciously audacious, a novel purporting to be an introduction to a newly discovered Shakespeare play. And yes, Phillips includes the play as well, complete with scholarly annotations. Questions of authorship abound, especially since Arthur Phillip’s father - a convicted con artist – played a major role in the discovery, and Arthur himself may not be a reliable narrator. Whether or not you see the hand of the Bard in the play is almost beside the point. It is a tour de force of a farce, a framework to pose questions about the nature of art and perception, family and relationships.
A Hudson Booksellers Best Book of 2011
The Tragedy of Arthur is an emotional and elaborately constructed tour de force from “one of the best writers in America” (The Washington Post). Its doomed hero is Arthur Phillips, a young novelist struggling with a con artist father who works wonders of deception. Imprisoned for decades and nearing the end of his life, Arthur’s father reveals a treasure he’s kept secret for half a century: The Tragedy of Arthur, a previously unknown play by William Shakespeare. Arthur and his twin sister inherit their father’s mission: to see the manuscript 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 play in its entirety, brilliantly subverts our notions of truth, fiction, genius, and identity, as the two Arthurs—the novelist and the ancient king—play out their strangely intertwined fates.
A New York Times Notable Book • A New Yorker Reviewers’ Favorite of the Year • A Wall Street Journal Best Novel of the Year • A San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year • A Chicago Tribune Favorite Book of the Year • A Library Journal Top Ten Book of the Year • A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year • One of Salon’s five best novels of the year
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“[Balances] a moving story of familial and romantic love on a deliberately unsteady fictional edifice . . . [an] exuberant chimera of a novel.”—The New Yorker
“Splendidly devious.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Wily and witty . . . an engrossing family saga [with] sparkling and imaginative prose. Shakespeare would applaud a man who does him so proud.”—The Boston Globe
“Arthur Phillips has found the perfect vehicle for his cerebral talents: his ingenuity; his bright, elastic prose; and, most notably, his penchant for pastiche—for pouring his copious literary gifts into old vessels and reinventing familiar genres.”—The New York Times
“Devious and exhilarating . . . an irresistible family drama bundled into an exploration of fraud and authenticity.”—The Wall Street Journal
“A circus of a novel, full of wit, pathos and irrepressible intelligence.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune
“The story of a family that is Shakespearean in several senses . . . [The Tragedy of Arthur] contains literary echoes of Nabokov, Stoppard and even . . . Thomas Pynchon.”—San Francisco Chronicle