And the play adaptation, also by Arthur Phillips, at the Guerilla Shakespeare Project

What’s It About: Okay okay. So this book is kinda acting under the “hey, I’m a false book” shtick. Arthur Phillips, the character not the author…except they’re supposedly the same… but they’re not… ANYWAYS, Arthur Phillips is a somewhat reputable and quite personally troubled novelist providing a  introduction to a LONG LOST Shakespeare play called ‘The Tragedy of Arthur.’ Arthur’s con-man father claims to have uncovered the play in his con-man whereabouts and has left it in his will Arthur under the condition that he MUST publish it. Arthur’s father swears up and down that the play is real. Forensics and Shakespeare scholars and publishers also agree it’s real. Trouble is, Arthur doesn’t. And now he’s unwillingly publishing what he believes to be a hoax, using his introduction to present his case. Or is he just resentful of his terrible father and, by Freudian displacement, Shakespeare? Daddy issues ensue.

Oh, and so does The Tragedy of Arthur. But y’know written by Phillips. Who’s writing as Shakespeare. Who’s probably not the writer. Or maybe yes. It’s all very meta.

Why: My book club chose it. Whaaat? ME? In a book club? What a surprise! Actually, this is the first book club I’ve ever been in and it’s about bloody time.

Also, I love meta. Meta is good.

Thoughts: Phillips’ self-aware meta stuff really intrigued me. There’s SO many layers to this book, even if you’re just thinking about its construction. It’s a pretty fantastic feeling, albeit frustrating to some, to find yourself all raveled up in this kind of crazy mystery of motivations, family relationships, and Shakespeare taking his throne at the center of not just literature, but also how we engage with each other. Then, there’s also the fact that you’re reading a play, judging whether or not it’s Shakespeare. BUT YOU KNOW IT’S NOT SHAKESPEARE… And yet, it’s this whole self-reflection— If it were Shakespeare, would I be able to tell? Can Arthur’s father (in the novel) and Phillips (in real life) pull it off?

I believe the proper term for it is … likewoahcrazyenglishmajorturn-on

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as much of a mindf*ck as it sounds. Phillips is gentle with his mind games and leads you quite explicitly into how the book works. But it’s still good fun.

I would have liked to engage far more with the narrator’s plan to expose his father’s hoax. Towards the end, his motivations for writing the introduction move from anger towards his father into girl problems… and the father is MUCH more interesting.

Also the play at the end felt a bit too much like an appendage and not elemental enough to the book as a whole. If I were a moodier reader, I probably would have skipped the play altogether. One possible solution to this dilemma might be a more abundant use of snarky footnotes. I love snarky footnotes.

We bookclubbers got to see ToA performed by the Guerilla Shakespeare Project. We all expected a dramatized version of the novel, probably with a few scenes thrown in here and there from the faux-Shakespeare. But it was the opposite. This time, Arthur’s introduction felt like more of an appendage to the fake Shakespeare. Pros: I understood the connections between the ‘play’ and Arthur’s life a lot more clearly, even if they do feel a bit superficial. And the acting was phenomenal. Cons: The story lost its psycho-meta quality, largely because it lost the complexity of Arthur’s real-life relationships. Phillips wrote both the novel and the GSP production. Maybe if he were to re-write the novel, he’d alternate between introduction material and faux-Shakespeare material (as in the GSP performance) but still retain all (or most) of the novel’s content.  ponder…

 

Has anyone read anything else by Phillips? Any good?