Part novel/fictionalized memoir, part five-act faux-Shakespearean play, The Tragedy of Arthur is Arthur Phillips’ ambitious foray into the genre-bending novel. It is made all the more impressive by Aaron Baker's versatile and convincing performance.
The novel is divided into two parts. The first part is a soul-searching introduction to a play called The Tragedy of Arthur that the narrator, a fictionalized version of Arthur Phillips, has found and is introducing to the world for the first time as a long-lost William Shakespeare play. As ersatz Phillips unspools his tale of the lifetime of experiences that have led to him possessing a previously unknown Shakespeare play, Aaron Baker, a veteran audiobook performer, enlivens the sad-sack narrator, convincingly voicing his sometimes sympathetic, sometimes contradictory, often self-indulgent observations. The second part of the novel is the play itself, an entire five-act written in the style of the Bard. For a fake Shakespeare play, it’s a rich and entertaining listening experience, and hearing a full cast play performed proves to be a gratifying pay-off after the long introduction that precedes it.
But it is Phillips' introduction that provides the more playful and poignant action. Recognizing that the book rests on the premise that though the play and the story told in the introduction both might be frauds, one can't always dismiss a fraud out of hand, Baker infuses the reading with a voice that sounds at once unquestionably sincere and also like the voice of a confidence man who is working over his mark. Baker's performance reveals a man who feels contrite and embattled, yet also indignant and strangely entitled at times, as when Arthur rationalizes his pursuit of his sister's girlfriend, or abandons his wife and children. Baker dramatizes Arthur's self-delusion in a way that is at once empathetic and winking. Everyone knows a guy like Arthur, and most of us have been him at least once: someone who says he's sorry for his sins in one breath and proceeds to justify those sins in the next. Baker's interpretation - like the best Shakespearian actors’ performances - adds layers to the text that allow for multiple interpretations of the story. Maggie Frank
Best-selling author Arthur Phillips won critical acclaim for his novels Prague and The Egyptologist, and Publishers Weekly called him a “master manipulator” for his ability to write fiction spun out of imagination and illusion.
In The Tragedy of Arthur, Phillips tells the (mostly) true story of being asked to write the introduction to a lost Shakespeare play entitled The Most Excellent and Tragical Historie of Arthur, King of Britain. But Phillips knows the play - supposedly found in a safety deposit box in America - is a fake.
©2011 Arthur Phillips (P)2011 Recorded Books, LLC
"[T]he novelist’s art is a cunning ability to lure the reader into treating counterfeit bills as if they were current. And this particular novel - a fictional memoir posing as a fraudulent introduction to a forged play - is a spectacular instance of the confidence game. It is a tribute to Arthur Phillips’s singular skill that his work leaves the reader not with resentment at having been tricked but rather with gratitude for the gift of feigned wonder." (The New York Times Book Review)
"[Phillips] best trick is to balance a moving story of familial and romantic love on a deliberately unsteady fictional edifice… [an] exuberant chimera of a novel. Boldly he includes the full five-act play itself, a virtuosic counterfeit." (The New Yorker)
"A literary treasure… shows off a writer at the top of his game." (The Washington Post Book Review)
A fictional book about a fictional play told by an author with a protagonist of the same name whose father gives him a lost?Shakespeare play that seems to be about him. A book that can be loved on many levels (like a Shakespeare play). and I loved it. Sorry when it ended.
Even the "performance" of the 'found' play at the end challenged by beliefs. Did I find it less Shakespearean because I knew Shakespeare didn't write it or because Arthur Phillips is no Shakespeare?
Is Shakespeare Shakespeare because of what and how he wrote or because we decided (and generations before us decided) that what and how he wrote was worthy of veneration? This is one of the questions that Arthur Philips poses. Read/listen for more.
I tried to read the print version three times, and couldn't get into it...now that could be me and my schedule. Since I drive a lot for work, the audio book is usually a better choice, so I sprung for it. I was not disappointed. I just started the actual play, but I will say I did love this book.
Sort of convoluted (Arthur the author writes a book as Arthur the protagonist who gets a book from his father Arthur that seems to be a Shakespeare play about King Arthur) but easy to follow nonetheless. You do have to like that kind of book...complex story lines that give you a protagonist that you aren't 100% behind...Arthur isn't the kind of guy you are always rooting for. There will be times when you think
I liked the characters the best, and the fact that you weren't really sure at any time what the actual truth was.
I loved the character of Arthur (the father)...the voicing of that character really gave him life.
To be...or not to be...that is the question, isn't it?
I listened to this book over a longer time span than usual. I wasn't always positive what was going on and maybe that time span was why, or maybe print would have been better in this case. Some parts engaged me more than others, thus the wishy-washy title of my review here. But I was glad I stuck with it, even though at times I wanted it to pick up the pace a little. The ending was good - not every book can say that. I will look at other works by this author for when I am feeling cerebral and clever, or at least am in the mood for that kind of company.
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