Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Tragedy of Arthur - Phillips

Arthur Phillips
Prague, The Egyptologist, Angelica, The Song is You

The Tragedy of Arthur is complexly simple. In it's essence it is a faux memoir by Arthur Philips detailing his life and how he came to possess a forgotten Shakespeare play about King Arthur. Through the "introduction" to the "play", because there is an actual play at the end of the book, a pretty good one too, you get to see Arthur's complex relationships with his twin lesbian sister Dana, his criminal father and his distant mother.

If you are easily confused by characters sharing the same name you might want to shy away from this fantastic novel. First there is Arthur - the real Arthur, the one who is actually writing this book, but then there is also the alter-Arthur, Arthur's father Arthur and of course King Arthur, who The Tragedy of Arthur is about. If you can get past that then you're golden. Unless you don't like Shakespeare, then I'd strongly suggest moving on to something less Bard like.

The Tragedy of Arthur is a blend of childhood disappointment, hurt pride and forgiveness, but don't worry, it's not heavy like you'd expect. Phillips crafts his faux memoir in a fantastically light way, casting the characters he likes - his sister Dana - in an almost saintlike light and the characters he disproves of  - his father - in a comedic criminal role. Since these are easily the two most important characters is his story (besides fake Arthur, since he's the protagonist and all that jazz) this creates a nice, sublet comedic outlet that boarders between Nabokov and Shakespeare.  At times Phillip's can be a bit long winded, especially when he starts to go on about himself, but he always sites this as the main fault of memoirs, and that sometimes it is unavoidable. Oh, and the play's pretty awesome too.

Overall The Tragedy of Arthur is like a story out of Shakespeare, there is love, loss and laughter, and of course enough drama to keep a reader interested. It's not the best thing I've read all year, but it's definitely in the better half.

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