Wednesday, May 4, 2011
Book Review: "The Tragedy of Arthur" by Arthur Phillips
I don't know if this ever happens to you, but when I love an author, I eagerly anticipate their next book, and often buy it shortly after it is released, because I can't wait to get my hands on it. This was definitely the case with Arthur Phillips, whose book The Song is You was among the best books I read in 2009. But sadly, although I've seen almost nothing but fantastic reviews for his latest book, The Tragedy of Arthur, I was really disappointed by it.
The concept behind the book is really interesting. The narrator is an author named Arthur Phillips. Just before his death, Arthur's father, who made his living as a con artist and forger, gave Arthur what he claimed was a long-lost Shakespeare play, The Tragedy of Arthur. His father's dying request was that Arthur do the necessary research to prove that the play was legitimately written by Shakespeare and then ensure its publication, sharing the proceeds with his mother, sister and one of his father's associates. Arthur's twin sister, Dana, and their father shared a lifelong love of Shakespeare, which Arthur felt he needed to compete with; in fact, he became an author to prove to his father he was capable of creating something that caused people to feel things. As the verification of the manuscript continues, Arthur begins to question whether the play is legitimate or his father's last big con, and struggles with what to do, with both the play and his lifeand major consequences ensue.
The first half of the novel is supposed to be Arthur's introduction to Random House's version of the play, while the second half is the play itself. While I really liked the concept of the book, Arthur's character is tremendously unlikeable (despite his struggles with his father), and I stopped caring what happened to him. The mess he proceeds to make of his lifeand how those around him deal with those mistakeswas probably the most intolerable part of the book, because it felt tremendously false. I felt as if Phillips tried to throw a lot of things into this book; some of it stuck and some of it didn't, at least for me. If you're a Shakespeare fan, there is some really interesting information to be gleaned from the book, and the "Shakespeare play" itself is fascinating. But I guess I'll just wait for Phillips' next book and see if it resonates for me more like his last book than this one.