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2 Burnside Literature- A to Z

The Egyptologist


The Egyptologist Cover



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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Average customer rating based on 3 comments:

gretchs, June 12, 2012 (view all comments by gretchs)
This is a difficult book to get through, but, like life of pi, is all about the ending. When I reached the end, I found myself searching through the rest of the book, looking for passages to prove what I suspected. The characters aren't necessarily 'likeable' but they are interesting, and encouraged me to continue through the book to see where they would end up. Not all the issues/ questions are answered, of course. The format of the book is also different, and the unreliability of the different narrators kept me interested page after page.
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Peter Saucerman, November 29, 2011 (view all comments by Peter Saucerman)
With all due respect to the cheerleaders - this book was like castor oil for me. I took three runs at it, could not stomach it beyond page 100. Not a single likeable character, not a mystery that engaged, full of pomp and bombast - I could not care less about any of the so-called characters. The memo dates, jumping backward, forward, one day, twenty years, two months - one would need a dedicated white board to chart this fluff, and still what would be the point? Anyone want a nice clean copy? you can have it for postage.
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(1 of 2 readers found this comment helpful)
KimMiE, January 28, 2010 (view all comments by KimMiE)
The Egyptologist is one of those wonderful stories that's about the journey rather than the destination. Disguised as a mystery, the novel doesn't try to hide the solution (it's easy to guess long before you reach the end), but revels in letting the reader figure out what's going on in spite of the characters' delusions, vagueries, and outright lies. Unfolding by way of masterful self-revelation, the Egyptologist is clever, well-told, and one of the most fun reads I've picked up in a long time.
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Product Details

Phillips, Arthur
Random House Trade
Historical - General
Historical fiction
General Fiction
Literature-A to Z
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
8.08x5.18x.93 in. .68 lbs.

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
History and Social Science » American Studies » Popular Culture

The Egyptologist Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$3.50 In Stock
Product details 416 pages Random House Trade - English 9780812972597 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "How was Phillips to follow up a debut as startlingly brilliant as Prague? By doing something completely different. His story, set mostly in Egypt in the early 1920s, stars Ralph Trilipush, an obsessive Egyptologist. Trilipush is more than a little odd. He is pinning his hopes on purported king Atum-hadu, whose erotic verses he has discovered and translated; now he must locate his tomb and its expected riches. Meanwhile, an Australian detective, for reasons too complicated to go into, is seeking to unmask Trilipush, who may have had some relationship with a young Australian Egyptologist who died mysteriously. Trilipush and the detective are two quite unreliable narrators, and the effect is that of a hall of mirrors. Where does fact end and imagination, illusion and wishful thinking begin? Phillips is a master manipulator, able to assume a dozen convincingly different voices at will, and his book is vastly entertaining. It's apparent that something dire is afoot, but the reader, while apprehensive, can never quite figure out what. The ending, which cannot be revealed, is shocking and cleverly contrived." Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review A Day" by , "I'd be surprised if you didn't have the central mystery of this caper figured out somewhere before the halfway point. But here's the thing: I'd also be surprised if this bothered you too much. After all, when is the last time somebody made the effort to spin you a tale? When is the last time somebody wrote you a letter? When is the last time you encountered a contemporary writer with Phillips's far-reaching interests and easy facility with far-away places, far-away times?" (read the entire Esquire review)
"Review A Day" by , "Ancient Egypt and detective stories inspire a similar feverish obsession, and Arthur Phillips, in his new novel The Egyptologist, has a pretty good idea why. The novel, disguised as a collection of letters and journal entries, traces two stories, each woven from a mix of fact and fabrication, by two very different men....The real game lies in the slow revelation of why neither man can allow himself to understand the truth and how what we need to believe about the world often becomes more important to us than our own lives." (read the entire Salon.com review)
"Review A Day" by , "The Egyptologist is nothing like Phillips's bestselling debut, Prague, and yet it's full of all the dazzling talent he showed there. Presented as a collection of letters, telegrams, journals, drawings, scholarly analysis, and ancient (ribald) poems, the book opens like some long-sealed chamber of mysteries. But beware: Trust no one who's read this novel, particularly reviewers, whose damp breath and careless touch could easily disintegrate its wonders before you can enjoy them...." (read the entire Christian Science Monitor review)
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "Highly recommended for everyone in search of buried treasure."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "[C]lever, labyrinthine....[A] suave, elegant novel, replete with sinuously composed sentences and delicious wordplay....Phillips's formidable research and witty prose make this one well worth your time. He's quite possibly a major novelist in the making."
"Review" by , "Phillips follows...Prague with an equally inventive if totally unexpected foray into ancient Egypt....Phillips proves himself once again to be a wildly creative storyteller."
"Review" by , "This witty second novel plays with fire — Pale Fire, that is — by daring to appropriate the scheme of Nabokov's cleverest novel....Phillips is nearly as deft as Nabokov at parodying the academic mind..."
"Review" by , "One piece of the mystery becomes obvious early on, but The Egyptologist is still an interesting, convoluted sort of puzzle....Phillips has missed an opportunity, though, to create a work that is more than clever."
"Review" by , "[A] wonder, a work of imaginative prowess that more than fulfills the promise of Prague. It's ambitious. It's inventive. It's challenging. And it's the kind of book that puts a writer's career on track..."
"Review" by , "[The reader has] to slog through a lot of details of Egyptology that are, frankly, on the boring side. The novel, which starts out with a great deal of charm and momentum, bogs down three-quarters of the way through."
"Review" by , "[A] kind of brainy animated cartoon in novel form....Some of its contrivances are a bit wobbly, and none of its characters is wholly human, but it often verges on brilliance — though it's inconsequential brilliance."
"Review" by , "While the book is too long and the artifice eventually gets to be too heavy, Phillips has successfully avoided the sophomore jinx and the curse of the mummy."
"Review" by , "The book is a little long on excavation details and Atum-hadu's life, but press on. The payoff is worth the occasional long-windedness. You'll be left to wonder: Where in the fictional world will that swashbuckling Phillips turn up next?"
"Review" by , "Phillips spices things up with a few post-modern twists in characterization....The Egyptologist requires a bit of faith and a lot of digging in places, but it finally yields up its somewhat morbid treasures in the end."
"Review" by , "Among the delights of Phillips' accomplished, exhaustively researched novel is its subtextual fascination with perception and the often willfully blinkered aspects of human interaction."
"Review" by , "The Egyptologist, a novel very much worth reading, will certainly have its fans, but one suspects they will not be the same fans, or at least not fans in the same way, as those who loved Prague."
"Review" by , "Who would have thought archaeology could be so involving? The Egyptologist is a tale as deep as it is tall."
"Review" by , "Phillips' rollicking plot winds down to a finish both poignant and eye-popping — not a combination one finds every day! His entertaining characters are believably two- or three-faced, and his phrasing is gorgeous."
"Review" by , "[T]he reader is happy enough to keep reading, diverted by the characters' clever chatter and the author's zippy prose. But...by the book's midpoint, the reader...has begun to wonder why this novel is as long and long-winded as it is."
"Review" by , "The author deftly shifts back and forth among a half-dozen voices and styles....[T]he audacity of his creation [is] as great as that of his protagonist's, and the success of it even greater."
"Review" by , "Erotic hieroglyphics, a nosy Aussie investigator, and a shocking end make this one of the year's best."
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