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Arthur Phillips – The Egyptologist

September 22, 2007

97. The Egyptologist by Arthur Phillips (2004)

Length: 416 pages

Genre: Historical Fiction

Started: 15 September 2007
Finished: 22 September 2007

Summary: Ralph Trilipush, a British archaeologist, sets out in 1922 to search for the tomb of King Atum-hadu, whose very existence is doubted by most scholars, but who Ralph believes is the author of a scroll of erotic poetry that he translated several years previously. Ralph is not particularly honest, scrupulous, or trustworthy, and to complicate matters, there is an investigator poking around his background and stirring up doubts in the mind of his fiancée, Margaret, and her father, Ralph’s financial backer. The entire book is in an epistolary format; a combination of Ralph’s journals and notes for his book about the discovery of Atum-hadu’s tomb, letters from the investigator to Margaret’s nephew thirty years after the fact, and miscellaneous correspondence between other characters.

Review: This book is not quite like anything I’ve ever read before. It’s a unique experience to read a book where the story is never – never – told straight-out, and the only way to get at the truth of the events is to look at the distorted reflections of it filtered through various unreliable narrators, each with their own unique biases. The reader has to guess what really happened through detective work of their own, but unlike most mystery novels, those guesses are never really confirmed one way or another. The skill of writing involved to pull this off is incredible; each of the narrators has a clear voice, and a particularly unique way of lying, of bending the truth, so that as the book progresses and we become more familiar with them, we can see the underlying reality more and more clearly. There’s also a wonderful black humor running underneath everything, as we watch the narrators descend further and further into ambition, jealousy, and above all else, self-deception as they variously seek immortality. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Requires a fair bit of attention from the reader, so it’s not an easy-going, kicked-back kind of book, but the unique and masterfully crafted characters, story, and tone make it well worth the effort.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 5, 2011 12:28 pm

    I heard about this book wow, maybe in 2004, and thought it sounded so interesting. I love Egyptian history so I thought this would be good. Glad to know, while not an easy read, it’s a good one.

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  1. Arthur Phillips – The Tragedy of Arthur | Fyrefly's Book Blog

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