Meta-narratives are tricky beasts. Author-as-pseudocharacter so easily can fail on a number of fronts: lack of intrigue in the metacharacter; stilted, artificial prose that renders the narrative as only a technique and not one that “breathes”; plots that collapse under the weight of the levels of narrative and theme. Yet when an author manages to pull it off, it is something to behold. In his 2011 novel, The Tragedy of Arthur, Arthur Phillips has created a dual-level narrative that first entrances the reader before entrapping her within its web.
Desire lurks at the heart of The Tragedy of Arthur. It is only fitting, considering how desire (for self-improvement, power, lust, love, zealous faith) occupies the center of so many tragic narrative webs. It is a tale of Arthur, who shares many biographical details in common with the author, who has a long, complicated relationship with his father, a master forger. It is a story of a reader’s befuddlement regarding William Shakespeare and the enduring power that this playwright and poet has had for the past four centuries. It is this and much more, as the story feels so brutally direct and “human” that it is easy to overlook in the beginning Phillips’ narrative sleight-of-hand that makes the direction of this tale so fascinating to read even when the “tragedy” becomes apparent to readers.
Read the complete review by Larry Nolen / @Squirrelpunkd at his excellent site Gogol’s Overcoat, a site “devoted to literature, cinema, art, history, and other cultural matters.”
Our tragic hero, Arthur.