“When this came out as a gorgeous paperback, I realized I had been wanting to read it since before the hardcover was published. In a miracle of book location memory, I found the copy I picked up over a year ago and dove in. This is a brilliant, funny, clever novel that lived up to all my hopes for it. Consider the first sentence: ‘Random House is proud to present this first modern edition of The Tragedy of Arthur by William Shakespeare.’
The preface, supposedly by the editors of Random House, sets the scene—a previously unknown Shakespearean play was recently inherited and verified by famous author Arthur Phillips. As part of the contract to publish it, Arthur Phillips agrees to the right and obligation of introducing the play with an original essay. The novel that follows, which really does precede a full-length “Shakespeare” play, is Arthur’s confession and protest; after selling the rights to the play his father discovered, Arthur Phillips realized the play—like his father—was a fraud. Arthur and his fraternal twin, Dana, were raised on their father’s love of Shakespeare and a sense of wonder, but this same father led a life of crime as a counterfeiter and subsequently spent lots of time in prison.
Much of the characters’ lives echo Shakespearean themes and plots with doubles, betrayals, identity confusion, and madness running rampant. Shakespeare, real and imagined, is quoted throughout. The layers of reality and counterfeit are like the layers of buttery dough in a good croissant: too many to count and balanced to a satisfying yet light effect. If you’ve enjoyed novels by Peter Carey (My Life as A Fake, Parrot & Olivier in America) or Philip Roth (Operation Shylock, The Plot Against America), you should definitely give this a try. I also think it would be an incredible book club book for groups that like a challenge. Reading The Tragedy of Arthur, I felt like I had to keep my wits about me, but I also let myself be swept away. Kind of like watching or reading Shakespeare, come to think of it.”—Tegan, Queen Anne Books, Seattle. Buy The Tragedy of Arthur from Queen Anne Books.