Not only does Mr. Phillips have a lot of fun concocting this play, borrowing a little from “Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2,” “Henry V,” “Hamlet” and even “Macbeth” along the way, but also in writing “The Tragedy of Arthur” — the book we hold in our hands, not the play within it — he’s constructed a sly, spirited novel that deftly showcases his own versatility and shiny literary panache.
Who cares if Mr. Phillips had fun concocting this play—is it fun to read? (The review suggests that it’s not.) Who cares if he deftly showcases his own versatility and shiny literary panache—does he offer us anything worthwhile? (Perhaps–if you’ve always wanted to know what Arthur Phillips thinks about Shakespeare and, um, himself.)
This is literature as peacocking. We’re told that The Tragedy of Arthur is a great novel because it displays the author’s “gifts,” his “cerebral talents,” and that he “does a clever job” with it. As if the reason we read is to decide whether the author is a smart person or not.
I read Phillips’ first novel, Prague, and it felt like watching the author rub one out. This book sounds like more of the same. But what’s worse is the attitude expressed in this review–and echoed, I suspect, in many of the positive reviews this book is getting–which turns all reading and writing into a competition of wits.