One of 2011's best books of the year, according to:
nominated for the International Impac Dublin Literary Award
...and immediately declared "Too clever, too funny, too eccentric to win."
~ Eileen Battersby, Irish Times
Splendidly devious... [The play] is a surprisingly good fake, too. I was unable to detect any obvious blunders in language. ...much of The Tragedy of Arthur actually sounds as if it could have been written by the author not of Hamlet, to be sure, but of The True Tragedy of Richard, Duke of York [Henry VI, Part III] . This is no trivial achievement; it is the work of a very gifted forger... 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.
~ Stephen Greenblatt, author of Will in the World, in The New York Times Book Review
(Cover Review and Editor's Choice)
A brilliant piece of literary criticism masquerading as a novel, one that wrestles with issues that Shakespeare raises for every writer and reader but that professors never quite confront. It’s the most ambitious book on Shakespeare I've come across in many years because it so deeply engages questions that matter. Does Shakespeare somehow invent us, or do we invent him?
~ James Shapiro, author of Contested Will, in The Daily Beast
An enthralling novel.... it is a brilliantly clever, funny, often moving tale of deception, of adolescent sexual confusion and development, and of the revelation of a sensational confidence trick that it suits some people’s financial interests to deny. It ...juggles with themes of truth and deception, integrity and dishonesty, judgment and value...and of the corrupting power of desire for fame and wealth.
~ Stanley Wells, The New York Review of Books
Five stars. Arthur Phillips has produced a delicious, ludic fantasy, descended (in part, for it has its own originality) from Nabokov’s Pale Fire....Most of all it’s a quicksilver examination of our obsession with the man who wrote Hamlet, with Phillips as Prospero, his characters (and us) on strings, and as Feste too, turning shotsilk inside and out, leading us up one path only to show us we've been wrong all along. And it achieves, gloriously, what Shakespeare’s plays set out to do: instil into their audience a sense of wonder.
~ Philip Womack, The Telegraph (U.K.)
The always-original Phillips has outdone himself....You simply must read the book...
Phillips, who has been on everyone’s radar since the publication of Prague, continues to intrigue and amaze.
~ Margaret Flanagan, Booklist
The Tragedy of Arthur, however you view it, shows off a writer at the top of his game. Just remember what Touchstone says in As You Like It: “The truest poetry is the most feigning.”
The text of Arthur demonstrates that there are few limits to Mr Phillips's imagination.
~ Robert McCrum, The Guardian (U.K.)
"A MASTERPIECE" A devious and exhilarating novel... an irresistible family drama bundled into an exploration of fraud and authenticity, packaged as an ingenious prank.
~ Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal
What separates The Tragedy of Arthur from some modern metafiction is that it’s much more fun to read than it is to annotate. A mystery is spun out over its pages, one based upon The Bard but requiring no special knowledge of his work....Arthur Phillips, all three of them, have turned a book about a forgery into a true original.
~ Benjamin Errett, The National Post (Canada)
[An] exuberant chimera of a novel... the full five-act [play] proves to be a virtuosic counterfeit... But his best trick is to balance a moving story of familial and romantic love on a deliberately unsteady fictional edifice.
~ The New Yorker (Books Pick)
This is a novel about authorship -- real, false and contested -- yet it's far from the sort of arch and arid exercise in formalist tail-swallowing that most people think of when they refer to "postmodern tricks."... story of a man whose self-inflicted, tragicomic woes are as affecting and wincingly believable as those endured by the hero of any conventional fiction. That Arthur's spectacular crash-and-burn comes nestled in a web of ingenious and very funny literary allusions only makes it that much more of a treat.
~ Laura Miller, Salon
The novel is a tour de force. It is poignant and beautiful, without being condescending or twee....Phillips’ first four novels gained him respect in the literary community, but this novel will lionize him. Not to be missed.
~ Yolana Wassersug, The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Bookshop (U.K.)
A dizzying exercise in pseudo-scholarship....Ingenious.
~ David Grylls, The Times of London (U.K.)
The book provides at once a flawless pastiche of the Bard.. a hilarious satire on the explication industry that flourishes in universities across five continents, and a vibrant
tribute to the faceless genius dramatist.... a novel whose humor, scholarship and
tempo justify the claim to the magical ancestry [of Nabokov's Pale Fire].
~ Bruno Juffin, Les Inrockuptibles (France)
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....a wonderfully tricky Chinese puzzle box of a novel that is as entertaining as it is brainy.
~ Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
A prismatic metafictional wonder: a fake memoir that blasts fake memoirs, while speaking passionately on family, memory, and identity; a publishing-world satire; a literary mystery; a comedy; a tragedy....Phillips gleefully delivers more than any book owes us. His is a unique critical and personal perspective on Shakespeare, by turns hilarious, heretical, and affecting, but it's his heartbreaking story of familial betrayal that ensures this book is no mere bag of academic tricks.
~ Stefan Beck, The BN Review
The more captivating, virtuosic, brilliant and eccentric the story, the less one knows where one is in this maze of clues and interpretations, where the narrator and the author are surely the same man, but which man? One begins even to doubt the authenticity of the quotations from Coleridge and Melville.
~ Pierre Assouline, La Republique des Livres (France)
However lightly Phillips executes the formal manipulation, The Tragedy of Arthur is not an ordinary reading experience. It holds in balance several sources of aesthetic tension the reader must still reckon with, tensions left deliberately unresolved.... [Phillips] has formidable control of both form and language. This was to an extent evident as well in The Egyptologist and in the Jamesian manipulations of point of view in Angelica, but Arthur confirms he is not an ordinary novelist.
~ Daniel Green, The Reading Experience
A penetrating study of the charm of artifice, and a loving tribute to a father who creates everyday magic for his son. A man sort of like Prospero. Or even Shakespeare.
~ Malcolm Jones, The Daily Beast (Father's Day Recommendations)
In this extraordinarily inventive, extraordinarily good novel....Phillips’ genius lies as much in his killing humour as in his flawless narrative and stylistic execution — think Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire meets Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, with the tongue-in-cheek brilliance of both. The Tragedy of Arthur is a novel that resists being put down as much as the best-fought revolutions; parting is indeed sweet sorrow when we reach the final page.
~ Emily Donaldson, The Toronto Star
The Tragedy of Arthur is ingeniously plotted, but it's also beautifully written. As Phillips constructs this fiendishly complex puzzle, he keeps the focus on the real puzzle: What motivates people, especially when family, money, and reputation are involved?
~ Rhonda Dickey, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Hugely convincing... It is a masterful piece of mimicry, and a brilliant exploration of influence, authenticity and authorship. Arthur Phillips has managed a rare thing: he's found something new to say about Shakespeare. And for that alone this book deserves an audience.
~ David Annand, The Literary Review (U.K.)
~ Randy Boyagoda, The Globe and Mail (Canada)
The Tragedy of Arthur is his wildest and funniest yet, at once homage to Nabokov's Pale Fire, satire of literary hagiography in general and Shakespeare scholarship in particular, and a hilarious yet trenchant riff on memoirs. His concept is so clever and fantastic ...that the only question, through guffaws, is whether he can sustain it.
~ Heller McAlpin, NPR (Books We Like)
Phillips pulls it off. But the real triumph of this dizzyingly self-reflective novel is that it doesn't matter that the Shakespeare (faux or actual) is almost entirely beside the point. What's essential, rather, is the saga that surrounds it.
~ David L. Ulin, Los Angeles Times
Considering the speed with which "memes" spread...in fifty years a lot of people will be convinced that "The Tragedy of Arthur" is a play of Shakespeare's youth....One will understand that it is particularly difficult to do justice to this very rich novel.
~ Santiago Artozqui, La Quinzaine Litteraire (France)
In terms of sheer audaciousness there will have been few novels this year to match The Tragedy of Arthur.... For all its metafictional audacity, The Tragedy of Arthur is, in the end, a triumph of humility, and a worthy offering.
~ Jonathan Gibbs, The Independent (U.K.)
Ultimately, this is a book about authenticity, not only of literary texts but also of people and filial relationships..... This is all good, serious and emotionally rich material, and Phillips handles it skillfully and sympathetically.... It contains literary echoes of Nabokov, Stoppard and even the Thomas Pynchon of The Crying of Lot 49 ... I don't think these comparisons are unmerited. This is the real deal: You just can't fake this stuff.
~ Geoff Nicholson, San Francisco Chronicle
The whole thing is deliciously playful, a cunning comment on fiction and fraud, and literary reputation and speculation. There’s a tenderness, amid all the intellectual teasing.
~ Eithne Farry, The Daily Mail (U.K.)
It is with pleasure that we are taken in by a structure of mosaics and reflections, nested references and twisty turns.
~ Thierry Guinhut, Le Matricule des Anges (France)
"A COMEDY EXTRAORDINAIRE" Wily and wonderful... a shape-shifting stunner... diabolically merry... Readers are invited to play detective, to sleuth among the contradictory statements, the misspellings, the besmirched motives.
~ Karen Long, The Cleveland Plain Dealer
So why all the gamesmanship? In a sense, this is Arthur Phillips's literary funhouse; we're just passing through. But there's also a finely tuned novel here, as well as some fiercely moving storytelling. It's a fiction to which curious readers would be well advised to submit.
~ Jacob Silverman, The National (U.A.E.)
Far from playing it safe, Phillips has constructed nothing less than an artifact about the curious nature of truth. [A] sharp, clever dazzler of a novel.
~ Gwenda Bond, The Subterranean Press
Despite its title, Tragedy (the novel) is more comic than anything else, its plot an ever-surprising roundelay of who's conning whom. Crammed with Shakespeareana and other literary lore (not for nothing is the novelist a five-time Jeopardy champ), Tragedy is a dazzling combination of elements of Shakespeare's style with the author's own. Phillips' exuberant use of language, his sly wit, his bravura juggling of high culture and low humor, all reflect the Bard of Avon's influence in an utterly contemporary novel.
~ Colette Bancroft, St. Petersburg Times
Phillips is always different and always so cheekily engaging....dizzying and delicious reflections on how we judge what we see... in this slippery, funhouse world, there’s the legitimate struggle to distinguish truth from falsehood—and then there’s imagination, amply displayed in this outrageously entertaining book.
Sparkling and imaginative prose. Shakespeare would applaud a man who does him so proud. Readers, too, may well praise Phillips for crafting so wily and witty an excursion into the ties that bind fiction and life.
~ Carlo Wolff, The Boston Globe
A concoction of such amusing erudition, obvious Bard worship and hilarious footnotes you sort of wish it were real. What is real is Phillips' ongoing work as one of our most original writers, one whose career as a novelist is beginning to look like an extended exercise in literary performance art.... As a concept, The Tragedy of Arthur is ingenious. As a novel, it is affecting. And never reassuringly unreal.
~ John Anderson, Newsday
A tour de force--clever, rueful, full of insight into contemporary culture and modern families and the rarified world of literary forgery, and, as always, stuffed with amazing and memorable scenes and quotable prose. Arthur Phillips may not be Shakespeare, but he can legitimately stake a claim to being one of the best and most daring and original of novelists working in the United States today.
~ Dan Chaon, author of Await Your Reply
~ Billy Heller, New York Post
A circus of a novel, full of wit, pathos and irrepressible intelligence.... A rich commentary on manipulative memoirs, a lively survey of Shakespeare scholarship, and, most important, a compelling story about family that has its own Shakespearean shape.
~ Mark Athitakis, Minneapolis Star-Tribune
Like his spiritual brother, David Mitchell, Phillips not only kicks postmodernism awake but encourages it to shoot crystal meth.
~ James Hannaham, Village Voice (Spring Picks)
Bracing intelligence and genuine heart. The fun starts with the opening line...and the energy never flags as the book develops into both a literary mystery and a surprisingly effective critique of the Bard. (A-)
~ Darren Franich, Entertainment Weekly
Arthur Phillips has nerve: to wit, what other author who has written about an undiscovered Shakespeare play actually writes the play and includes it for the readers' delectation?
Arthur Phillips is brilliant: He has the brains to pull off a fair facsimile.
~ Maya Muir, The Portland Oregonian
The greatest impression this play has made on me is that I want to direct, act in, study, and debate this work. As a theatre professional, there is no higher honor, whether the piece was written by William Shakespeare, Arthur Phillips, Sr., or anyone else.
Who could pull this off but the prolific Phillips?.... Highly recommended for all who enjoy inspired, original, entertaining writing-deftly delivered here by one of our most talented arthurs, uh, authors.
~ Ed Cone, Library Journal (Starred Review)
Is it real? Is it a work of genius? Does it matter? You’ll have more fun than the novel’s protagonist parsing it all out, that’s for sure.
~ Emily Temple, Flavorwire: 10 Phenomenally Tricky Books Everyone Should Read
A wonderful riff on the art of the memoir, a wry critique of academic scholarship, a touching look at father-son and brother-sister relationships, a window into the writer's struggle for originality and a subtle jab at the publishing industry....Compulsively readable.
~ Zak M. Salih, Richmond Times-Dispatch
Playful, maddening, complicated and elusive, The Tragedy of Arthur cements Arthur Phillips's reputation as a novelist who's both staggeringly well-read and brilliantly inventive.
~ Norah Piehl, Bookreporter
More triumph than tragedy, a clever, funny literary deceit that skewers everything in its path — scholars, Shakespeare lovers, anti-Stratfordians, family dynamics, the publishing world, bookish pretensions, even the author. It also slyly tackles some pointed questions about what we consider art and why, and if a rose by any other name would indeed smell as sweet....Phillips [is] a master stylist.
~ Connie Ogle, Miami Herald
The award for biggest gamble that pays off goes to Arthur Phillips, whose editor must have tried to have him committed when he turned in the manuscript for The Tragedy of Arthur ... tricky, smart, and uncomfortably funny.... Wily...sublime.... brazen, smart and playful.
~ Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
Best of the month.
~ Town and Country Magazine
Phillips captures Shakespeare’s sense of humour perfectly.
~ Daniel Swift, The Financial Times
A tricky, postmodern, nested piece of work that’s also funny and addictively readable.... a bravura performance.
~ Catherine Holmes, Charleston Post and Courier
I loved this novel. It's the type of smart-funny book that you don't read too often.... Phillips has come away from all this having written a fantastic tragi-comic novel, a faux memoir, and a freaking Shakespeare play (alliteration unintended but remaining unchanged).
~ Michelle Cavalier, Cavalier House Books Blog
If you want to read a very clever and creative literary device, read the whole darn tragic thing.
~ Chad Estes, The Fish.com
Phillips never disappoints.
~ Anis Shivani, The Huffington Post (Most Anticipated Books)
Arthur saves the bulk of his derision for himself, even as you sense the performative aspect to it. In a neat trick, he charms all the more from the prostrate position.
~ Kimberley Jones, The Austin Chronicle