The Egyptologist

The Egyptologist

by Arthur Phillips


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812972597
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/24/2005
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 752,401
Product dimensions: 5.14(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Arthur Phillips is the internationally bestselling author of three New York Times Notable Books—Prague, the winner of the Los Angeles Times/Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction; The Song Is You; and The Tragedy of Arthur—and The Egyptologist. He lives in New York.


New York, New York

Date of Birth:

April 23, 1969

Place of Birth:

Minneapolis, Minnesota


B.A., Harvard College, 1990

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.

From the Hardcover edition.

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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Egyptologist 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 50 reviews.
Teresa Wells More than 1 year ago
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
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
probably on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Read this at Julie's suggestion - she lent me the book. It seemed to drag a little in the middle 3/5ths. It reminded me of Wicked, and also of Ronald Merrick in the Jewel in the Crown. Deranged auto-didact is the main character. Interesting comments on death and immortality, as the bookcover said. As usual, I was looking for the hero to get away.It did bother me that the guy was absolutely looney by the end. He had made a lot of progress from his roots, and from the time he was in the service until his death was not that long. Why would he go so wrong in that short a time?
stevenj on LibraryThing 5 months ago
one narrator is dishonest, the other is foolish--put them together and you get a lot of fun deciding what really happened.
bcquinnsmom on LibraryThing 5 months ago
I can't believe all of the naysayers who've reviewed & totally panned this book. I've seen this book called "boring," "tedious," "stuffy," but I have to say that I disagree with the best of them. I genuinely loved every second of this book and rather than devouring it all at once like I normally do, I read this over several days, slowly, so I wouldn't miss a thing.I don't even know how to begin with my thoughts on this book. So I'll start with the basics. Would I recommend this book? Yes. There is a mystery, but it is quite easy to figure out pretty much at the beginning, so if you're looking for this book to get a mystery reading appetite whetted, this probably wouldn't be your first choice. If you are looking for something unique in the literature realm, then definitely I would recommend this book to you.Told in an epistolary format, Phillips writes from the points of view of the "unreliable narrator". Set in the early 1920s, chief is the voice of Ralph Trilipush, Egyptian explorer in the early 1920s, in Egypt at the same time as Howard Carter when he makes his discovery of King Tutankhamen's tomb. Very early on the reader comes to realize Trilipush's self-aggrandizement (is that a word?), from little hints from his journal entries, especially when he addresses "Reader," in his journal. So right away you can figure that anything coming from Trilipush must be suspect. Trilipush works at Harvard as an associate adjunct professor, and has found backing for an excavation to try to locate the tomb of King Atum-hadu. He meets Margaret Finneran, who just happens to be an heiress to the Finneran's Finery fortune; her father decides to get together a group of investors for the project and send Trilipush on his way to Egypt after he assures them of wealth and riches beyond their wildest dreams. Things go well for young Trilipush, until an Australian detective, Ferrell, comes to Boston as part of his travels to track down information regarding one Paul Caldwell, an illegimate heir of the Davies Ale fortune. It turns out that Caldwell was a soldier in Turkey at Gallipoli, and wandered off after WWI to Egypt and along with Hugo Marlowe another WWI soldier, was never heard from again. Ferrell's travels have led him to friends of Marlowe, notably, one Ralph Trilipush. Ferrell's perceptions are mediated mainly through the passage of time and memory; he is looking back at his investigations some thirty years later, and is also writing them down in letters, so what he has to say must also be looked at closely. Also, Ferrell tends to gain clients at every turn through information he offers to various people involved in his search -- adding another level of scrutiny to how he goes about his work and what conclusions he comes to. You really should go and read a synopsis of this work; I can't really begin to do it justice. The book is probably one of the best I've read this year, suffused with irony and dark humor. A VERY intelligent piece of writing and I absolutely cannot wait to see what this author does next. I loved his Prague, and this one was even better. side note: if you pair this one with Nabokov's Pale Fire, you'll do yourself a favor.
Meredy on LibraryThing 5 months ago
In addition to numerous conventional virtues, what makes this book extraordinary is its use of not one but two unreliable narrators. Each of them misapprehends events in a different way, and yet through their misguided narratives the author allows the reader to glimpse the truth.It's almost as if we were looking through two panes of glass, each with an amorphous shape painted on it, and discerning a figure only in the area where the two overlap--imperceptible if you see just one of them (and also if you fail to look at the reflections in the shiny surfaces). A remarkable achievement.
mythlady on LibraryThing 5 months ago
I loved this book -- what a treat it was. Yfngoh misses the point a bit, I think -- the book is a delightful example of the "unreliable narrator" technique. Of course the guy is bogus. Give it a try.
lynneinfla on LibraryThing 5 months ago
I had to read this for my book club. I had tried it once before and given up, but stuck with it for book club. I am not sure I can recommend it very highly. I found it a little rambling and confusing. I think I know what happened in the end, but by the time I got there, I really didn't care.
cdeuker on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Can a writer be too talented? Arthur Phillips might be. This book has wonderful moments. The plot concerns the life of an Australian slum boy who falls in love with Egypt. He then remakes his own life, becoming an Egyptologist replete with an Oxford degree. The next step, naturally, is to make some earth-shaking archaeological discovery. If you can invent yourself, you can invent a pharaoh as well. All these lies are tied to an aging Australian detective who dreams of becoming a mystery writer, a Boston beauty with a love of opium, Howard Carter (of King Tut fame), World War I, and the circus. If it all sounds a bit too much, well, it is. But just a bit. The second Arthur Phillips book I've read, but not the last.
craso on LibraryThing 5 months ago
In 1922 while Howard Carter is uncovering King Tut¿s tomb, Ralph Trilipush, also an Egyptologist, is obsessed with finding the tomb of Atum-hadu, supposed Egyptian king and erotic poet. Trilipush is engaged to marry Margaret Finneran, a Boston socialite, whose father is bank rolling the expedition. Australian detective, Harold Ferrell, sticks his nose into their business while investigating the death of Paul Caldwell, an Australian soldier stationed in Egypt at the same time as Trilipush. He finds inconsistencies in Trilipush¿s background and starts to believe he killed Caldwell.The story is told through journal entries, letters and cables. Most of the narrative comes from Trilipush¿s journal from 1922. The other half of the narrative comes from Ferrell¿s letters to Margaret¿s nephew written in 1955. Both narrators are unreliable. Trilipush¿s narrative can not be relied upon because he is so focused and sure of Atum-hadu¿s existence that he can¿t accept when the expedition starts to fall apart. Ferrell¿s letters are also unreliable because he is writing from a rest home and piecing the story together from thirty-three year old notes and his own memories.The theme of the story is immortality. Egyptian kings thought they would achieve immortality through the Egyptian burial rituals; being buried in tombs with objects that would help them in the afterlife and mummification. Trilipush believes his immortality lies in finding Atum-hadu¿s tomb. As Ferrell writes to Macy, he talks about how they can team up to publish Ferrell¿s cases as a series of detective stories.There are no heroes in this novel. All of the characters are flawed; Margaret is a drug addict and her father hopes Trilipush¿s find will pay off his underworld debts. Ferrell falls for Margaret and tries to sabotage her engagement to Trilipush. Some of Trilipush¿s journal entries are tedious. I found myself looking ahead to see when Margaret or Ferrell would add one of their letters to the narrative. Near the end though, Trilipush¿s entries became so interesting I couldn¿t put the book down. I highly recommend this novel to anyone interested in the psychology of obsession.
drudmann on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Might be the best book I have ever read. Stunning.
Oregonreader on LibraryThing 5 months ago
This is an epistolary novel, told in a series of letters from several of the main characters. Those from Ralph Trilipush, Oxford grad, Harvard lecturer, archeologist, date from 1922 during a trip to Egypt to hunt for the tomb of Atum-hadu, whose existence most experts doubt. The letters reveal a man so confident that he is always right and destined for greatness that he filters everything through that belief and you quickly get the sense that there is only a grain of truth in his letters. His constant posturing and self-justification are very funny and cleverly written. The remaining bulk of the letters are from an Australian private detective who stumbles across Trilipush's trail and sets out to find him. Phillips is very clever to use this format to tell his story as the letters reveal the characters so clearly. It quickly becomes obvious that the letters are all self-serving and the truth somewhere in between. As the story progresses, you get a sense that it is headed for disaster. The ending does not disappoint. This is a very clever, beautifully written book.
auntmarge64 on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Totally unexpected and one of the most memorable books I've read. The story is written like a spiral, bringing the reader closer and closer to the truth about the main character, who believes he has found a pharaoh's tomb to rival Tut's (being excavated nearby by his rival Howard Carter). Wild, horrifying, vivid. How I wish I could find something this wonderful to read even once a year!
mainrun on LibraryThing 5 months ago
This was a tough book. I think the author is a very good writer. At times I liked the structure of the book. Most of the times I did not. It was not a simple narrative, which I could see this book getting five stars. It was a "package" of a journal from a main character, letters from another main character, and a few other letters from minor ones. I FELT THE AUTHOR WAS LAZY when the journal writer skimped due to feeling tired. I was confused because I didn't know that the documents were arranged in chronological order, sometimes breaking the main characters letters into different parts, with parts of the journal in the middle of the letter. The author was too clever for me. The four stars I gave to Fire Ice was too generous. The two stars to this book is too mean, but sometimes you got to be a Grinch.
KatieLovett on LibraryThing 5 months ago
I only read literary fiction on occasion, but I love all things Egyptian, so I decided to pick this up. And from the moment I read the first line to the moment I read the last, the story held me captive. Even days later I couldn't shake it from my head. I confess that I saw the end coming, but far from ruining the story for me, it only enhanced its effect. The Egyptologist is a thought-provoking picture of obssession and the need for recognition, the need to know that yes, your life has been valuable. I highly recommend it.
verbafacio on LibraryThing 5 months ago
The Egyptologist is a remarkable piece of literature, carefully crafted and very engrossing. The story revolves around Ralph Trilipush, an eccentric Harvard professor who is in search of the tomb of Atum-Hadu, a lascivious king who remains unknown to the scholarly world. But Trilipush is not all he seems, as the reader discovers from his own journals and recollections from an elderly private detective, Mr. Ferrell. This book is so detailed; it is completely engrossing. The hints of unreality here and there seem to be intentional, to keep the reader in the same hazy state as Trilipush himself. About 2/3 of the way through the book, I figured out what was really going on with Trilipush and his find. Knowing the truth doesn't make the unraveling of the plot any less enthralling. This is just an excellent read.
bastet on LibraryThing 5 months ago
A very ambitious, but ultimately unfulfilling look at a madman who imagines himself to be an Egyptologist. The way the author creates the fantasy is interesting, but I found the ending disturbing--and not in a good way.
mritchie56 on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Fantastic novel, the best I've read in years, set in the 20's in Egypt about a man obsessed with uncovering a fabled tomb, in the same way that Howard Carter did with the tomb of King Tut. The story is told through the letters and journals of a variety of characters, and much of the fun is figuring out who we can trust, who is being untrustworthy, and who can no longer tell fact from fantasy. The narrative takes a while to get going, but if you stick with it, you won't be able to stop. It's also that rare book that I can re-read with pleasure.
Storeetllr on LibraryThing 5 months ago
I listened to this on audio a couple of years ago and absolutely loved it, and I've been meaning to read it in hard copy but just hadn't gotten around to it. So, in April 2008, when I had a chance to buy it in book form (trade paperback) at the L.A. Times Festival of Books and have the author sign it, I jumped at the chance. Mr. Phillips is a delightful man, very polite and soft-spoken, with the most beautiful azure blue eyes I've ever seen. I told him how much I enjoyed The Egyptologist, and he admitted with a shy smile that it is probably his secret favorite too. :) Anyway, The Egyptologist is a darkly funny novel mostly told by utterly unreliable narrators about the way the truth can be twisted to make reality unrecognizable. All of the characters ~ from the brilliant and ambitious but ultimately pathetic Ralph Trilipush & the wily but slimy detective to Egypt of the early 1900s ~ are well-drawn and spot-on. The Egyptologist reminded me of The Great Gatsby in some ways ~ the writing is fabulous, the narrators unreliable, their quests for immortality and their reinventions of themselves very reminiscent of Fitzgerald's masterpiece, yet it's also great adventure with undertones of horror a la H. Rider Haggard.
Bookmarque on LibraryThing 5 months ago
The first time I read this book, it was as an audio (and I can still hear the narrator in my head ¿ Simon Prebble did a fantastic job). Not exactly the best format for this since keeping track of names, dates, cryptic clues etc, is best done with a physical book. Thus at the end of my first run through, I had more questions than answers. It plagued me for days and I actually did listen to the end part several times. Did I hear and absorb what I think I heard and absorbed? Was the layered irony really that thick? Were the hidden in plain sight deceptions really that pervasive? Having got through it again in trade paperback, the answer is yes. It is that densely ironic and subversive. Here we find the poster children for unreliable narrators. Second reading as good as the first, but I'm not sure how it will hold up for future reads.
Kasthu on LibraryThing 5 months ago
With just the right kind of ironic humor, Arthur Phillps tries to capture the life of a fictional Egyptologist, Ralph M. Trlipush, in the latter part of the year 1922.An eccentric old man named Barnabas Davies dies, with the intent to find, and compensate, illegitimate children he has scattered all over the world. The investigation leads to one Paul Caldwell of Sydney, Australia, born in the early 1890s and vanished mysteriously in the Egyptian dessert in the First World War. Who was Paul Caldwell? And who is (or was) Ralph Trilipush, the supposed English professor of Egyptology at Harvard University and engaged to the American heiress, Margaret Finneran? Through diary entries and letters, the author follows two stories: Trilipush's, as he prepares to uncover the tomb of an ancient Egyptian pharoah named Atum-hadu; and that of an Australian detective, Harold Ferrell as he recounts his story from a retiring home in the 1950s. The various perspectives each of these two narrators have on the events contained herein are fascinating. Personal bias really and truly does have an effect on the way we view the world."Just how secret is secret enough?" is a question Trilipush poses on the matter of Atum-hadu and his buried tomb; but that same question might easily be asked of Trilipush's own life. Ralph gives us marvelous, self-centered accounts of growing up in Trilipush Hall in Kent, which, as the reader will find, are untrue; might also his account of discovering the tomb prove to be a fabrication? There are also mixed accounts of Trilipush's education, as well as his sexuality. The more one plunges into the story line, the more one finds that the stories of Ralph Trilipush and his Egyptian king are remarkably similar. Both seek to achieve immortality through a "third birth." This book is filled with Egyptian lore and trivia, as well as the fictional account of the life of Atum-hadu.On the flip side is the story of Trilipush's fiancée, Margaret Finneran, and her father, who owns a department store chain in Boston. Both of these characters keep secrets from Trilipush which threaten to destroy the relationship between the Egyptologist and the American girl.What I thought was marvelous was the deprecating way in which Trilipush describes Howard Carter, who at the moment this narrative takes place uncovers the tomb of Tutankhamen. Lord Carnarvon is secretly called "Lord Cashbags." I also loved the comments Trilipush makes about American tourists and the Egyptian natives. There is, of course, the highly-touted "mystery," which can easily be solved. But the mystery is NOT the point of this novel. This excellent book is a detailed account of a man struggling with his own identity.
shanarra on LibraryThing 5 months ago
I absolutely hated this book .. I felt like I needed to wash my brain after I'd finished reading it (hoping against hope that the ending would make the torture of reading it worthwhile).
AnnieHidalgo on LibraryThing 5 months ago
I can't think of too many other edge-of-your-seat novels about archaeologists. This one is an extremely unreliable narrator, and yet you are pulling for him regardless. The last half will surprise you.
lectrix on LibraryThing 9 months ago
I'm still surprised that not only did I start this novel, but I could scarcely put it down until I'd finished it. With its unreliable narrators, epistolary format and absence of sympathetic characters, it seemed to be precisely the kind of too-clever-by-half literary novel that I can't abide.Wrong!Ralph Trilipush is a British archaeologist obsessed with a little-known pharaoh whose erotic writings he has translated. He's excavating in Egypt at the same time as Howard Carter, of whom he's madly jealous. Trilipush's background and credentials are obscure, his financial backing unreliable and possibly unsavoury. There are murders, conspiracy and shady dealings, sometimes comically inept; nothing and no one are what they appear to be. Suspicions are aroused and someone sends a private detective to put a tail on Trilipush, who has by now discovered the location of his shadowy pharaoh's tomb near to (but just out of sight of) where Carter is about to unearth the treasure of Tutankhamun.The story is told entirely in extracts from Trilipush's journals, contemporary letters and telegrams, interspersed with much later correspondence that the now-aged detective sends to a young relation of the aforesaid fiancee. These elements are so skilfully spliced together and allow the characters to unwittingly reveal so much about themselves that this reader, at any rate, was immediately hooked and unable to let go until the shocking denouement. And not even then, if truth be told.If had to say what The Egyptologist is about, I'd go for ambition, greed, self-delusion and the quest for immortality at any cost. It's a black comedy laced with subtle jokes (some of which I suspect I may have missed on a first reading), and like the best comedy, it has tragedy and pathos at its heart.Murder-mystery fans might be disappointed to guess whodunnit quite early on (it's the how and why that are truly intriguing and unexpected), and Egyptophiles might regret that the novel doesn't time-travel, but for me this was a hugely enjoyable and satisfying read.Sarah Cuthbertson
OyWithThePoodlesAlready More than 1 year ago
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!