three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
13-Nov-Dec-2004
user_rating: 
0

A Novel

A-EgyptologistIn The Egyptologist, the best-selling author of Prague (2002) forgoes Eastern Europe for a jaunt back to ancient Egypt and the desperate quest for immortality. Through letters and journal entries, he introduces two unreliable narrators. In the 1920s, archaeologist Ralph Trilipush, bankrolled by his Boston fiancée’s family and guided by a scrap of hieroglyphic pornography, tries to unearth the tomb of an apocryphal king at a site near the newly discovered tomb of King Tut. The other storyline involves Australian detective Harold "Feral" Ferrell, who’s roving the world for clues to the murder of an amateur Egyptologist. When their stories merge, they both discover that no one is who he claims to be.
Random House. 394 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 1400062500

Detroit Free Press 4 of 5 Stars
"Phillips’ rollicking plot winds down to a finish both poignant and eye-popping—not a combination one finds every day! … Read Phillips’ grand Egyptologist and the name of Ralph M. Trilipush will stay with you for a long, long time." Susan Hall-Balduf

Milwaukee Jrnl-Sentinel 4 of 5 Stars
"Resonant and knowing, this comedy of manners and mores attests above all to an astonishing imagination. Its many voices, points of view, jokes and puzzles create a layered, multi-perspective book that is literally fabulous." Carlo Wolff

Orlando Sentinel 4 of 5 Stars
"As an indication of the playfulness at the heart of The Egyptologist, consider that the name of its protagonist, Ralph Trilipush, is an anagram of the name of its author, Arthur Phillips. … The author deftly shifts back and forth among a half-dozen voices and styles." Roger K. Miller

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Arthur Phillip’s second novel, The Egyptologist, reads like a love child of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado and Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire, with Oscar Wilde’s Bunbury from The Importance of Being Earnest as godparent. … The Egyptologist is about taking that most creative and desperate of urges, the desire to secure one’s legacy and immortality, to the most outlandish extremes imaginable." Heller McAlpin

Wall Street Journal 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Trapped inside this maze of unreliable testimony is a thoughtful meditation on the untrustworthiness of the past. Why believe what antiquity tells us when the present is so often made of lies? It is a testament to Mr. Phillips’s art that The Egyptologist keeps us reading to the very end without ever answering the question." John Freeman

New York Times 2 of 5 Stars
"In laying out these two plots, Mr. Phillips initially demonstrates great zest in mixing fact and fiction, history and satire to concoct a rollicking narrative that’s one part Evelyn Waugh, one part H. Rider Haggard, one part World Book Encyclopedia and several parts hokey movie melodrama. … Mr. Phillips’s own storytelling, sadly, grows increasingly self-indulgent and bloated as the book progresses, and combined with the reader’s knowledge of the ‘surprise ending,’ it makes for a disappointing conclusion to a novel that got off to such a promising and bouncy start." Michiko Kakutani

Critical Summary

Don’t trust any of the half-dozen voices in Phillip’s second novel, a lighter but somehow deeper, more macabre work than his previous look at the Zeitgeist in 1990s Budapest. Phillips mixes fact and fiction to recreate a faux 1920s Egypt full of devious scenes, smart banter, and narrative tricks, particularly when examining hieroglyphics. Different voices and convoluted plots create a surprisingly deep novel about class, illusion, and immortality. Only the narration and ending raise questions; The New York Times called the storytelling "bloated" (Trilipush shares his never-ending disdain for Carter on nearly every page) and the end predictable; others found new, shocking surprises in each chapter.

Also by the Author

Prague | Arthur Phillips (2002): 3.5 of 5 Stars Nov/Dec 2002. The year is 1990, and five Westerners meet in the smoke-filled clubs of Budapest to discuss the meaning of life and love.