The Egyptologist

( 28 )


From the bestselling author of Prague comes a witty, inventive, brilliantly constructed novel about an Egyptologist obsessed with finding the tomb of an apocryphal king. This darkly comic labyrinth of a story opens on the desert plains of Egypt in 1922, then winds its way from the slums of Australia to the ballrooms of Boston by way of Oxford, the battlefields of the First World War, and a royal court in turmoil.
Just as Howard Carter unveils the tomb of Tutankhamun, making the ...

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The Egyptologist

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From the bestselling author of Prague comes a witty, inventive, brilliantly constructed novel about an Egyptologist obsessed with finding the tomb of an apocryphal king. This darkly comic labyrinth of a story opens on the desert plains of Egypt in 1922, then winds its way from the slums of Australia to the ballrooms of Boston by way of Oxford, the battlefields of the First World War, and a royal court in turmoil.
Just as Howard Carter unveils the tomb of Tutankhamun, making the most dazzling find in the history of archaeology, Oxford-educated Egyptologist Ralph Trilipush is digging himself into trouble, having staked his professional reputation and his fiancée’s fortune on a scrap of hieroglyphic pornography. Meanwhile, a relentless Australian detective sets off on the case of his career, spanning the globe in search of a murderer. And another murderer. And possibly another murderer. The confluence of these seemingly separate stories results in an explosive ending, at once inevitable and utterly unpredictable.

Arthur Phillips leads this expedition to its unforgettable climax with all the wit and narrative bravado that made Prague one of the most critically acclaimed novels of 2002. Exploring issues of class, greed, ambition, and the very human hunger for eternal life, this staggering second novel gives us a glimpse of Phillips’s range and maturity–and is sure to earn him further acclaim as one of the most exciting authors of his generation.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A wildly pleasurable, dazzling reading experience, big in heart and execution: crazed, ecstatic, and entertaining in the deepest sense of the word. Arthur Phillips is a terrifically talented writer, and these pages overflow with wit, mad humor, and, finally, a deep undercurrent of pathos.”
–GEORGE SAUNDERS, author of Pastoralia and Civil War Land in Bad Decline

“What a splendid, funny, bewitching book . . . Beneath Arthur Phillips’s singular wit and peerless comic timing, lies a spot-on parable of twentieth-century self-delusion and the painfully fruitless quest for immortality.”
–GARY SHTEYNGART, author of The Russian Debutante’s Handbook

“The dueling voices of a nostalgic detective and the monomaniacal archaeologist he pursues around the world are only part of the treasure contained in The Egyptologist. Crafted with nuanced erudition and literary flair, Phillips uncovers the hieroglyphs (not hieroglyphics–but you’ll learn that) and building blocks beneath how we construct, interpret, and trust our storytellers. Highly textured, quirky, serpentine, surprising.”
–MATTHEW PEARL, author of The Dante Club

Barbara Mertz
The book is a tour de force of plotting and narrative technique; the intertwining storylines lead with mounting inevitability to one of the most horrendously, hideously humorous endings in modern fiction. It isn't an ending for the faint of heart, but if you appreciated Evelyn Waugh's Black Mischief, this one will knock you out.
The Washington Post
The New Yorker
This witty second novel plays with fire—“Pale Fire,” that is—by daring to appropriate the scheme of Nabokov’s cleverest novel. In both books, a deranged scholar, laying out a putatively brilliant yet comically improbable thesis, gradually reveals his own bitterness and delusions of grandeur. It’s immediately obvious that Ralph M. Trilipush—an obscure Egyptologist who claims to have discovered the tomb of an unknown yet visionary Pharaoh—is off his rocker. The fun comes in the way his megalomania mirrors the temperament of supposedly levelheaded scholars. (He engages in hilariously pedantic combat with the man who found King Tut’s tomb.) Phillips is nearly as deft as Nabokov at parodying the academic mind, and understands that his work must transcend mere homage. Unfortunately, he tricks up his plot by adding a dull detective who labors to expose Trilipush’s lies, and by stealing a twist from “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” The result is pastiche overload.
Publishers Weekly
This recording of Phillips's maddeningly suspenseful novel of death, betrayal and morbid self-absorption features outstanding performances by all of the narrators involved. Told through letters, journal entries and telegrams, the book features arrogant British explorer Ralph M. Trilipush; his gadabout American fiancee, Margaret Finneran; and a sardonic Australian detective named Harold Ferrell, who becomes entwined with them both. While the book is told alternately from their three points of view, Trilipush commands the majority of the story, and Prebble's portrayal of him is spot on. The only problem is that he does such a fine job of capturing Trilipush's smug, overbearing attitude that it's difficult to listen to him for long stretches. The episodes told from Ferrell's perspective become welcome respites, and Negroponte's Australian accent is as sharp as the character's purported powers of observation. But Ferrell proves to be only slightly less conceited than Trilipush, and certainly no more reliable. Though the book's many clues are revealed as slowly as artifacts buried beneath the Egyptian sands, this excellent production will pleasantly tease listeners until all is unveiled-even if the main guide is one of the more unlikable characters in recent fiction. Simultaneous release with the Random hardcover (Forecasts, July 5). (Sept.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Ralph M. Trilipush, the eponymous Egyptologist-a war hero who attended Oxford but never served in the military, with no record of his attendance at the venerable British institution? A sheltered, society heroine who drinks to oblivion and takes opium? These are but two central mysteries of this potpourri of intrigue, subterfuge, and deception concocted by Phillips, whose Prague was a recent best seller. The plot is perpetrated by a series of journal entries and letters among the protagonists, who include the Egyptologist seeking the tomb of the legendary Atum-hadu; his Boston fiancee, Margaret; her father, a financial backer of Trilipush's expedition; and a private eye keeping track of a series of murder cases that come to be closely interrelated in this web of mystery spun by Phillips. Unlike Prague, whose characters moved at a leisurely pace, this work offers, quite tongue in cheek, a tableau of action and adventure in a 1920s setting. Highly recommended for everyone in search of buried treasure. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/04; for a Q&A with Phillips, see p. 71.]-Edward Cone, New York Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A secretive archaeologist's obsession with an obscure Egyptian king uncovers several concealed histories-in Phillips's clever, labyrinthine successor to his prizewinning debut (Prague, 2002). In the fuller of its twin narratives, Oxford-educated Egyptologist Ralph Trilipush describes (via his journals and correspondence) his quest for the tomb of Atum-hadu, a monarch of the doomed XIIIth Theban dynasty-financed by American clothing store mogul C.C. Finneran. Trilipush is a grand mal eccentric and megalomaniac, whose translations of Atum-hadu's erotic "admonitions" (published as Desire and Deceit in Ancient Egypt) have scandalized and irked reputable fellow scholars. Is Trilipush a charlatan? That's the opinion of retired Australian private detective Harold Ferrell, who, as a nursing home patient in 1954, pens garrulous letters to the nephew of C.C.'s formerly opium-addicted partygirl daughter Margaret, to whom Trilipush had become engaged (though not for her father's wealth, as Trilipush's letters fervently proclaim). The two stories are connected by Ferrell's investigation of the disappearance of young Aussie Egyptophile Paul Caldwell in the very year (1922) and place where and when Trilipush was investigating Atum-hadu's (possibly apocryphal) history as emblematic of the classic "Tomb Paradox": attempting to achieve immortality by concealing all evidence that one has ever lived. This is a suave, elegant novel, replete with sinuously composed sentences and delicious wordplay ("brogue" as a verb; "claustrophilia" to describe Trilipush's pyramidal burrowings, etc.); it's reminiscent of both Angus Wilson's brilliant comic novel Anglo-Saxon Attitudes and Vladimir Nabokov's postmodernistmasterpiece Pale Fire (Phillips plants a half-buried allusion to the latter late in the book). Alas, it's also intermittently labored and redundant. The mysteries of Trilipush's veracity and sexual orientation are endlessly worried, as is his hubristic rivalry with historical Egyptologist Howard Carter (discoverer of the tomb of Tutankhamen). Nonetheless, Phillips's formidable research and witty prose make this one well worth your time. He's quite possibly a major novelist in the making. Author tour. Agent: Marly Rusoff
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812972597
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/24/2005
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 366,134
  • Product dimensions: 5.14 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Arthur Phillips

ARTHUR PHILLIPS’s first novel, Prague, was a national bestseller, a New York Times Notable Book, recipient of the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction, and has been translated into seven languages. Phillips lives in New York with his wife and two sons.


It takes a lot of guts to call your first novel Prague. The name alone has become shorthand for a temporary fantasy world populated by overprivileged, post-collegiate Westerners trying to find themselves. It takes even more guts to call your first novel Prague and set it in Budapest.

Luckily for Arthur Phillips, the confidence is backed up by talent. His 2002 debut became a national bestseller that landed on several critics' year end "best of" lists, including Newsweek, Publishers Weekly, and The New York Times.

The seeds for Prague were planted in 1990, when Phillips graduated from Harvard and moved to Budapest. After the fall of Communism, Central Europe became the latest stopping point for would be bohemians looking to recreate the spirit of Paris in the ‘20s. Phillips spent the next two years working a variety of odd jobs, including stints as an executive assistant, an entrepreneur, a jazz musician, and a repo man.

While in Budapest, Phillips was struck by the radically different communities living together in the Hungarian capital. On one side were the expatriates: young, carefree, self-consciously aware of their role in history. On the other side were the natives: experienced, distant, routinely suspicious of the invading foreigners, yet smart enough to exploit the boon for their own benefit.

The gap between and necessary collision of the two worlds resonates throughout Prague. As Phillips writes on his website, "For some people I knew, the ear-popping pressure of so much history and self-consciousness made it hard to get up in the morning, to justify your lunch, let alone your existence. What does it mean to tell a girl you ache for her as the two of you stand in front of a building with bullet holes in it? What does it mean to fret about your fledgling and blatantly temporary career when the man next to you managed to get himself tortured by the secret police of two different regimes?"

In 1992, Phillips returned to the States to study music at Berklee in Boston. He graduated after a year and a half and started playing music professionally. Shortly thereafter, he got married. It did not take long for his wife to become "increasingly dubious about [his] abilities to make any money," so Phillips did what any man in his situation would do—he tried out for Jeopardy. Six months later, Phillips was on the show, earning enough money as a five-night champion to fund his next few years of exploits.

He began work on Prague in 1997. "I had been back in the States for about 5 years, and I felt so overwhelmingly nostalgic for that time and place, that I really was kind of a drag to be around," Phillips said in a 2002 interview with NPR's All Things Considered. "And my wife and others would ask me to stop talking about Hungary. And so I thought, well, maybe I could write about this time and then maybe I can work through some of my nostalgic issues."

It took Phillips four years to write the book and another six months to find an agent. Random House picked up the novel and published it to nearly universal acclaim. Janet Maslin praised it in The New York Times as "an ingenious debut novel." Other critics called Prague "devilishly clever" (Publishers Weekly), "hilarious and scathing" ( and "astonishingly good" (Minneapolis Star Tribune). Phillips, it seems, had finally found his niche.

Two years later, Phillips published his second novel, The Egyptologist. Phillips came up with the idea for the novel when asked by his sister to describe the writing process. To Phillips, writing is like, "an archaeological expedition. You think you're describing the main chamber, but then you discover another door and you go through it and find an even larger room, and what you thought was your goal turns out just to be a piece of a much larger structure you hadn't expected to find."

Phillips has gone on to write Angelica, The Song Is You, and The Tragedy of Arthur, all to critical acclaim.

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    1. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      April 23, 1969
    2. Place of Birth:
      Minneapolis, Minnesota
    1. Education:
      B.A., Harvard College, 1990
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

31 Dec. Sunset. Outside the tomb of Atum-hadu. On the Victrola 50: “I’m Sitting on the Back Porch Swing (Won’t You Come Sit by Me, Dear?).”

My darling Margaret, my eternal Queen whose beauty astonishes the sun,

Your father and I are heading home tomorrow, back to you—the luxurious riverboat north to Cairo, a night at that city’s Hotel of the Sphinx, then by rail to Alexandria, and from there we have booked victorious passage on the Italian steamer Cristoforo Colombo, ports of call Malta, London, New York, from where we shall catch the very first train to you in Boston. You shall embrace your fiancé and your father by 20 January.

Upon my return, our wedding will, of course, be our most pressing business. Then, after refreshed preparations, I shall lead a second expedition back here to Deir el Bahari to conduct a photographic survey of the wall paintings and clear the artefacts and treasures from the tomb. All that remains this evening is to seal up the tomb’s front, leaving my find exactly as I discovered it. And then posting you this package. My messenger is due here presently.

Nothing stands in our way now, my darling. My success here, your father’s reinstated blessing—all is precisely as I promised. You will be relieved to know that your father and I are again fast friends. (Thank you for your “warning” cable, but your father’s misplaced anger back in Boston could never have survived his time here in my company!) No, he congratulates me on my find (“our find, Trilipush!” he corrects me), sleepily sends you his love, and sheepishly begs you to disregard those foolish things he told you of me. He was under terrible strain, surrounded by jealousy and intriguers, and now he is simply delighted that I have forgiven him for succumbing, even for an instant, to such corrosive lies. And now we are returning to you, just as you will return to me.

Of course, if you are reading this letter, then I have not, for reasons I can only speculate, made it safely back to Boston and your embrace. I did not arrive trailing clouds of immortal glory, did not drape around your white throat this strand of whitest gold I am bringing you from Atum-hadu’s tomb. And I did not, taking you gently aside, under the double-height arched windows of your father’s parlour, brush away your tears of joy at my safe return, and quietly ask you to give me as soon as it arrives a package (this package), that you would be receiving from me shortly, stamped with the alluring postage of far-off Egypt, addressed to me in your care, to be opened by you only in case of my extended and inexplicable absence.

No, events will proceed just as I have foretold, and you will not read this letter. I shall arrive before it, shall gently take it from you before you open it, and all of this will be unread, unnecessary, a precaution known to no one but me.

But. But, Margaret. But. You have seen as clearly as anyone the malevolence of those who would have us fail, and one never knows when fatal accidents or worse might befall one. And so I am taking the liberty of sending to you the enclosed journals. Dear God, may it all arrive safely.

Margaret, you are now holding, if the besuckered tentacles of my enemies have not yet slithered into the Egyptian postal system, three packets, arranged chronologically in order of composition. They open 10 October, with my arrival in Cairo at the Hotel of the Sphinx, thoughts of you and our engagement party still effervescent in my head. Journal entries never meant for publication are intermingled with those that were, and with elements of the finished work. Much of the journal is a letter to you, the letter I never found the right moment to send until now. I intend to untangle all that back in Boston. The second packet begins when I exhausted my supply of the hotel’s stationery and in its place relied on the generosity of colleagues at the Egyptian Government’s Antiquities Service; several score pages are on the letterhead of the Service’s Director-General. Finally, I have nearly filled one very handsome Lett’s #46 Indian and Colonial Rough Diary, the preferred journals of British explorers whilst working in faraway heat and sand, advancing knowledge at the risk of their very hides. Do not worry: the pages torn from its back are none other than the pages of this letter. Together the three documents compose the rough draft of my indisputable masterwork, Ralph M. Trilipush and the Discovery of the Tomb of Atum-hadu.

Also, I am enclosing the letters you have sent me here, your words, kind and cruel intermingled. Seven letters, two cables, and the cable I sent you that was thrown in my face yesterday. And your father’s cables to me.

I just replaced the stylus, my last but one. This is a lovely song.

I am trusting a boy to serve as my messenger to the post.

Over time, Margaret, there is erosion. Sands abrade, rubble obscures, papyri crumble, paints decay. Some of this is, of course, destructive. But some erosion is clarifying, as it scours away false resemblances, uncharacteristic lapses, confusing and inessential details. If, in the course of writing my notes, I have made here and there a wrong turn, misunderstood or badly described something I saw or thought I saw, well, at the time one thinks, No matter, I shall edit when I return home. And I shall. But, of course, should I be beaten to death and shoved inside a gangly Earl’s travelling trunk and then hacked to pieces and my shreds lazily flipped overboard to peckish sharks, well, then, a pity indeed that I did not edit my work when I had the chance. I shall then need a brilliant and courageous redactor who can puff away dusty speculation to reveal stark, cold, obsidian and alabaster truth. You will provide that clarifying erosion.

We come to the crucial task I am entrusting to you, my muse-become-executrix. You are now the guardian-goddess of all that I have accomplished. These writings are the story of my discovery, my trouncing of doubters and self-doubt. I am entrusting to you nothing less than my immortality. I am relying on you, despite everything, for whom else do I have? If something should happen to my body, then you are now responsible—by opening this package, by reading these words—to ensure that my name and the name of Atum-hadu never perish. It is the least you can do for me, Margaret.

You will oversee the publication of this, my last work. Insist on a large printing from a prestigious university press. Stamp your pretty foot and demand shelf space in all major university libraries, as well as with the major Egyptological museums in the USA, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and in Cairo. And the general public! Cover your ears, Maggie! For there will be a clamour like no one has ever heard when the news escapes. But hold them all at bay until you are ready. Do the work as I am telling you, insist that the book be printed exactly as I say, and give the vultures nothing else.

I do not have time to edit just at the moment; events are moving too fast here. And we leave tomorrow. So I shall do it myself when I arrive safely home, but, allow me to provide contingent guidance if events should unwind elsewise.

For example, as I look at them now, certainly some of the early sketches seem not to have been entirely complete. The eye plays tricks in dim light, when one is hurried, but the final drawings are unquestionably precise, so those first efforts can go. And you will extract my ongoing letter to you, my private or overly candid diary entries here and there. What is only for you and what is for all the world fall away from each other; the division is an easy one to see, if you are careful. I was overeager as a diarist and as your correspondent at the beginning. There is no need to publish anything about you and me, the parties and the partnerships. I was excited, and for good reason, Margaret, as history will attest. And I see now also some stray meditation, releasing a little scholarly steam here and there, my second guesses allowed some room to stumble about only to suffocate in the open air. A careful reading, I beg of you, a careful reading in private, careful editing, and then find a typist (call Vernon Collins), use my illustrations from the notebooks, just the last group of them, when Atum-hadu’s paradoxes were all clear, and I at last understood what I was seeing.

If you must be my widow, M., then you will also be my wind. You will gently erode away the inessential. I started crossing bits out just now, but I do not have time, and I might cut into bone, so look here: I shall make your work as simple as I can: the relevant material in order: Kent, Oxford, the discovery of Fragment C with my friend, his tragic end, you and I falling in love, your father’s investment, Atum-hadu’s tomb in all its splendour, the insightful solution to his Tomb Paradox, sealing up our find for a later return, your father and I heading home, our unfortunate murder. Or not, of course. It could not be clearer. Burn the rest as the marginalia of a scholar’s early drafts.

The sunset here is unlike anything I have ever seen. The colour as the sun melts into the changing desert cliffs—such colours do not exist in Boston or Kent. These are the hills and cliffs where my life’s story is indelibly etched.

Last stylus. I do love this song.

If, Margaret, you are reading this letter, sobbing, horrified at your double loss but girding yourself and your pen for the vital tasks ahead of you, then I do not hesitate to accuse from here, before the commission of the dreadful crime itself, the maniacal Howard Carter, whose name you may perhaps have heard in recent weeks, the half-mad, congenitally lucky bumbler who tripped over a stair and fell into the suspiciously well-preserved tomb of some minor XVIIIth-Dynasty boy-kinglet named Trite-and-Common and who, in his crippling jealousy, has several times threatened my person in the past months, both whilst sober and whilst intoxicated on a variety of local narcotic inhalants. If I have neglected to note in my professional journals Carter’s unceasing attitude of hostility and barely contained violence towards me, such delicacy is only a pained professional courtesy to a once-great explorer, and is, moreover, an example of that certain bravura I have always displayed and you have always admired. Thus I have ignored his repeated threats to make me and my “noble patron, Mr. Chester Crawford Finneran, disappear inexplicably.” Obviously, should your father and I not step off the Cristoforo Colombo in the port of New York, you may be quite certain that we were done in by Carter or one of his thugs, like his money-man, a lanky English Earl, whose mild manner frays and scarcely covers a vicious character, stretch it though he does, or by their hideous orange-haired confederate, whom you know only too well.

Most beautiful Margaret, these months have not lacked in misunderstanding between us. But for all the harsh letters and harsher silence you sent me, I know that your love for me remains just as my love for you; there is nothing in this life that I value more highly than your embrace. The gramophone recording has come to an end again and now only wheezes in exhaustion.

That was my last stylus from the hundreds I brought with me. The thought that I have seen you for the last time, that I shall never again hold you, trembling in the breezes that dance through your ballroom when the windows swing open to the garden, that the pallor of your throat and the colour of your limbs will never again be revealed to me seizes me so roughly that I can scarcely write now. I cannot bear the thought that I shall never see you again. I cannot bear it. I cannot bear that you will think of me as your father described me, not as I really am, as I know you saw me, at the start. Please think of me at our happiest, when you were most proud of me, when you found the hero you had so long been seeking, the only man you could imagine, when we talked of the world at our feet. Please think of me like that, my darling darling. I love you more than you can know, in ways you will never imagine.

I will see you soon, my love.

Your Ralph

Sunset on the Bayview Nursing Home

Sydney, Australia

December 3, 1954

Dear Mr. Macy,

I am in receipt of your letter of the 13th November and I’m delighted to make your acquaintance, if only by post. I’m sickened to hear of your lovely aunt Margaret’s passing. It’s my dearest wish that she thought of me fondly now and again. We met in times of crisis, high drama. You never forget those, I can tell you. She was a beautiful, vibrant woman when I saved her back in ’22. I never saw her again after I brought to justice the man who caused her suffering.

I’m certainly most intrigued by your “small request to tap into [my] no doubt excellent memory.” True enough, sir, it is still excellent, and I’ll make an extra effort to prove it to you. In my day, I was known for having perfect recall.

I might also add that you’re no insignificant sleuth yourself to have tracked me here to this hellhole of a pensioners’ house, this human wastebin, thirty years after the facts, young Mr. Macy. Should the investigative field ever interest you professionally, I think you well-suited, and that’s high praise, that is, coming from me. Of course, maybe you’re the sort of fellow who doesn’t have to work at all, eh?

To answer your first question, which maybe was only politeness showing off your breeding, even in a letter to a stranger, but nevertheless, the answer is: bored. Bored nearly to death, thanks, which I suspect is the idea behind these places. Drink up the last of our savings and then bore us to death to open up the narrow, sagging bed and one of the few stinking pots to piss in, ’cause the next old fellow’s crossing his legs for it.

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Reading Group Guide

1. Why do you think Arthur Phillips used an epistolary structure for The Egyptologist? Would it have been possible for him to structure it differently? What effect do the letters and journal entries have on the voice of the novel?

2. Early in the novel, Trilipush writes to Margaret, stating “These writings are the story of my discovery, my trouncing of doubters and selfdoubt. I am entrusting to you nothing less than my immortality.... If something should happen to my body, then you are now responsible . . . to ensure that my name and the name of Atum-hadu never perish” (5–6). What drives his obsession with immortality? Explore Ferrell’s similar preoccupation with his own lasting fame, and how this theme pervades the novel as a whole. so h-

3. What does Atum-hadu symbolize? How does Trilipush relate to him?

4. In his journal, Trilipush relays three drastically different translations of hieroglyphs written by Atum-hadu—he writes, “Clenched and trembling men like Harriman and Vassal cannot restrain themselves from spilling educated and less educated guesses over barren, tattered evidence, producing great, pregnant speculations” (90). What point is Phillips making here about history and truth?

5. Describe Trilipush and Margaret’s relationship. Are they really in love? Do they have other motives for carrying on their love affair? How does their relationship change throughout the course of the novel?

6. Explain the effect of unreliable narrators in The Egyptologist. At which points did you find yourself trusting Trilipush or Ferrell? What are each of their motives?

7. Trilipush wonders, “How did [Atum-hadu] know that his authority would endure to the last crucial minute, and that his world would then disappear a moment later, under the onslaught, before anyone who knew enough thought to disturb his peace? Somehow he did it, setting for us the most brilliant Tomb Paradox in the history of Egyptian immortality and preparing, for only the most brilliant and deserving, a discovery like no other” (160). What is the Tomb Paradox, and what significance does it have? What is its equivalent in Trilipush’s life?

8. Explore the issue of self-delusion in The Egyptologist. What have each of the characters—Trilipush, Ferrell, Margaret—deluded themselves into believing? At what point does each of them come to their definition of truth, and what effects do their versions of clarity have on them?

9. Trilipush writes, “Despite my easy childhood, the men whom I admire most in this world are self-made men, a description which seems to fit the king” (265). What does he mean by this? Has his own evolution followed that of a “self-made” man?

10. On page 267, Trilipush explores the concept of three births. Explore the significance of this cycle and how it relates to the novel.

11. Were you surprised by the ending of The Egyptologist? How does the tone of the novel change in the final scenes? How does your perception of Trilipush and what he has achieved changed?

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 28 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 10, 2011

    Worst book

    This was way too long. I figured out the so calledvtwists early on and then was bored eith rhe endless entries from "Trilipush" who had clearly gone quite mad. Very disappointing

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 4, 2005


    Too many characters, too boring, but still I felt compelled to find out if what I had guessed happened by the first quarter of the book is in fact what happened.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 10, 2015

    This is one of my absolute favorite books of all time! I see a l

    This is one of my absolute favorite books of all time! I see a lot of reviews claiming it to be 'boring' or 'tedious,' and personally, I completely disagree. But you know, you can't please everyone, and we all have different tastes. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves a good history mystery, or just a good read in general! --- And what an ending! 

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 14, 2011

    "Tedious" doesn't even begin to describe this book.

    I tried to give it a chance. I really did. But after a while, the endless, overblown, self-absorbed narrative from both "correspondents" led me to do something I have never done with a novel: put it down. I totally lost interest. After 150 pages or so, a writer worth his salt has to cut to the chase. Maybe it all leads to a thrilling, orgasmic climax, but the foreplay is absolutely forgettable. The equivalent of looking for cracks in the ceiling while you're waiting for it to over with. He also has to create characters with whom the reader can find even an iota of identification. Trillipush is simply loathsome. Perhaps he is meant to be, but the Aussie private detective is only slightly less so. Obviously, Phillips has a loyal following, and it is to be hoped his other novels have not followed this florid, paid-by-the-word, narrative approach. Sadly, after wading through this tripe I will not waste my time trying to find out.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 16, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Best book I've ever read!

    This is my favorite book of all time. The story is interesting. It's like a puzzle you piece together from different characters perspective. Love it!

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  • Posted January 25, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    amusing, excellent twist

    How does an Australian detective connect a missing Australian soldier with a British Egyptologist who lives in Boston? Through a series of letters written by Ferrell (the detective) and journal entries written by Trilipush (the Egyptologist), the story slowly but surely weaves itself together. And the ending! It was kind of expected, but not in the way that I thought. I will not tell you, you need to read it for yourself! But it was the type of ending that makes me want to read it again, now that I know what I know...

    The two main characters side-by-side showed many similarities. Both wanted to achieve immortality: Trilipush in making a great Egyptian find, and Ferrell in turning this old case of his into a book or a movie. They both believed what they wanted to believe despite not having anything factual to support their claims. And, they both went to great lengths to prove their unfounded beliefs.

    Seeing the other characters, namely Margaret and CCF, through Trilipush's and Ferrell's eyes also sheds light onto their personalities. Ferrell, being a detective, tends to be more pragmatic and realistic, while Trilipush leans more toward what he wants to see instead of what is there. It's hard to establish the true characteristics of Margaret and CCF when they are shown to the reader in two different lights. Margaret does send a few letters to Trilipush while he's in Egypt, but the letters mostly show that she's not even sure of who she is, either.

    Trilipush's excursions to the desert happen alongside the great discovery of King Tut by Howard Carter. This, I think, is a great aspect of the story; it shows that Trilipush has enormous shoes to fill and he does get jealous. When he first meets him, Trilipush finds Carter quite amiable, but as more and more comes out of Tut's tomb, Trilipush derides Carter and thinks poorly of Carter's excavation process.

    Now to talk about the ending without revealing too much...The entire story is put together in a way that is humorous and entertaining with bits of mystery thrown in to keep the reader guessing. Reading along, I did pick up on things here and there that, if I were animated, a big question mark would appear above my head. All those question marks were confirmed at the end, and in a much bigger way than I had imagined. A great ending, all loose ends tied, and the reader is left with quite the picture in her head. Now, what happened here is the true meaning of a twist.

    If you're not a fan of Egypt, I don't really recommend this book. Most of it is spent talking about Egyptology (go figure, considering the title..) and archaeology, so it would probably be mostly boring to you. But if you can stand Egyptian history and enjoy a good mystery, this is an excellent read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2009

    Big disappointment

    Don't waste your time. I finished reading it, hoping it would get better or that I would care about the characters. It didn't and I didn't.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 24, 2007

    Cleverly Twisted

    I picked this pick up on a whim because it had the word 'Egypt.' I began reading it and found myself intimidated by the long passages but drawn in by the mystery the reader does not get completely blasted by until the end when you yell 'That FOOL!' It takes a patient reader to appreciate and take in the way Phillips throws the plot around. The format of the book is confusing in the beginning, but as you keep reading, the confusion develops into an ominous tone that builds up the tension and unravelling of the novel and its characters. It is certainly worth the effort and attention of anyone who claims they can read a book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 7, 2006

    A masterwork of unreliable narrators

    I haven't had a book take me on such a thrilling ride in years. An epistolary novel par excellence. Phillips has created a wonderfully intricate psychological thriller. Since each narrator has his own personal agenda, neither of them can be completely trusted. We, the reader, are left to find the truth somewhere in between the journal entries and the letters. The exotic setting adds to the drama and intrigue.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 27, 2006

    Witty, sly

    I actually laughed out loud at several points in this book, much to the annoyance of my poor husband who was trying to sleep. Once you figure out where the main character is headed (madness)and it all becomes clear (or mostly clear) you realize just what a clever tale it is. It did take me awhile to catch onto the threads of the story but the effort was well worth it. Naughty, charming, wickedly funny, especially the narrative of Mr. Trilipush as the tomb excavation progresses.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2006

    Don't say I didn't warn you.

    In my review of Arthur Phillips' first book, I pointed out that it was not fare for any reader seeking 'a portable replacement for mindless television.' In 'The Egyptologist,' Phillips proves me a prophet. This was the hardest read I've encountered since Thomas Pynchon's 'Mason & Dixon.' God! I loved it. This writer's willingness to take literary chances is beyond applaudable. His crafting of language is spellbinding. His layering of innumerable threads of seemingly unrelated research is prodigious. But his most amazing achievement is to spill out all of those uncertain aspirations onto the pages of a book and make them sing in harmony. No. 'The Egyptologist' is not Mike Hammer. It's not even Nick and Nora Charles. So, if someone told you this is a murder mystery, forget it. It's about as mysterious as a fortune cookie. And, as with that oriental treat, what you'll find inside is both obvious and entertaining. Could the book have been fifty pages shorter? Probably. But by the time I was reaching that conclusion, I was so caught up in the unraveling of everyone's aspirations, I didn't have time to complain. Surely you've read books before in which the author couldn't decide what kind of person he wanted his character to be. Well, everyone in this book is that way. And it makes us see that maybe the rest of us are like that, too. It's just a matter of how far we'll go, how much we'll risk, to be someone else. In this book, a host of supporting characters make feeble attempts at changing their realities... with money or travel or drugs. One of our narrators sits in a nursing home and broods about it, reaching until the very end for an opportunity to live some other life. And the other narrator just By Damn! DOES IT. Whoops! Now, I've said too much. Or as some reviewers of this work would have you believe, I've given it all away. Oh Posh! as the dear opiated Margaret might say. There was nothing to give away from the start. Phillips doesn't try to fool us. He simply shares with us some vivid portrayals of human fallibility in the throes of ambition.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 4, 2005

    Excellent book

    I could not put this book down. The author is truly cunning in using suspect and biased narrators to tell the tale. The detail about Egypt and the Carter find was very interesting. I thought this was provocative and a good murder mystery.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 21, 2005

    Love to yawn? Give this a read.

    I bought this book because it was recommended by someone on this site who read another book that I loved. Now that I've read it I understand something about the person who liked it. I understand that he must be brain damaged. This was the most boring book I've ever read. The only reason I forced myself to finish it is because my lovely wife wouldnt let me buy another book till I finished this one. She didn't read The Egyptologist, she's just cheap. I didnt mean 'cheap' honey... I meant 'Thrifty'

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2005

    Sherlock meets A Beautiful Mind...sort of.

    For an oddball mystery, The Egyptologist is, for the most part, a good read. Told in an alternating series of letters and journal entries, the story recounts the trials of a Harvard Egyptologist struggling to prove his theories regarding a possibly apocryphal king to a skeptical and largely uncaring world. The central figure is one Trilipush, a character as obnoxious as his name. We have met this character before, in countless stories featuring that storied and landed English gentry class that found itself tottering between triumph and obscurity in the transitional period between the close of Victoria¿s reign and the end of the First World War. Trilipush¿s airs, conceits and overblown sense of his place in the firmament are therefore familiar, if nonetheless extremely tedious. His antagonist, although neither one initially realizes it, is a retired Australian detective named Ferrell, himself given to more than occasional overblown fancy and preening. Ferrell has been retained to track down the whereabouts of a long-lost heir to a British brewery fortune. The divergent courses upon which these two men set out inevitably intersect, although it takes quite a while to get there. The rest of the characters, from the spoiled and ditsy American heiress and her blustering nouveau riche father, to the Trilipush¿s effeminate Oxford classmate and the stuffy and absurd parents of yet another chum, are all straight out of Central Casting and of not much interest at all. What keeps the reader¿s attention, however, is the dawning realization that Trilipush is nuts. As the dogged Ferrell turns up clue after clue, more and more of Trilipush¿s story seems to unravel, and with it Trilipush himself. In spite of indications that author Arthur Phillips was borrowing wholesale from the A Beautiful Mind, the story takes an unexpected and dark turn down a path of sheer madness. Going against type, author Phillips does not quite wrap up this tale in a neat little package as one might expect. Instead, loose ends are left dangling, an innocent man is wrongly convicted, and a central correspondence is never answered. Still in all, justice of a sort is done and the reader is not entirely disappointed with the outcome. A fast read and entertaining for those who enjoy this sort of set piece. Not great, but good enough.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2005

    Obvious and boring

    This was one of the dullest books I've listened too. It took a good idea and completely overdid it. Too many parts of the story had nothing to do with the plot.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 16, 2005

    Keep Digging

    I have never opted to write an review before but I am an avid reader.This book is one that I would have say, is one of the most bizarre character studies I have ever had an author develop. It then lead to a humorous, dark, but compelling labyrinth me to immerse myself. This works best for the connoisseur who does not enjoy plots explained to him. My taste is eclectic, so I can only recommend diverse choices, but at least they offer paramount enjoyment: 'Darkly Dreaming Dexter', 'Shadow of the Wind', 'Asylum', and many others.All are strikingly original,complex,compelling,and elegant in writing style.(They will also keep you from becoming jaded with one genre.)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2005


    I read this review page, lots of stars, and it influenced my choice of this book. So I must also post. The history was interesting, the mystery was solvable quickly, so then the character story lost my interest. I finished the book hoping for more, but alas.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2005

    Unique and enthralling

    If you've even a passing interest in archaeology or ancient Egypt, this one's for you. The tale is spun alternately through the journals and letters of self-proclaimed explorer extraordinaire Ralph M. Trilipush, and through the correspondence of snoop-for-hire Harry Ferrell (whose link to Trilipush takes him from Australia to London to Boston and beyond). Darkly humorous, absorbing, intelligent and definitely complex, the real mystery of The Egyptologist is how the reader can ever manage to put it down. Fantastic!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 6, 2004

    Fantastic! Quite a Page Turner

    If you like historical or archaelogical adventure fiction, this book is for you. An amazing mystery, written so wittily, it has you guessing--and better, second-guessing--throughout the book. I couldn't put it down.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 29, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 28 Customer Reviews

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