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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Egyptologist

The Egyptologist
by Arthur Phillips
audio book: 16.25 hours

From the author's website:
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.
I've had this book sitting on my shelf for months waiting to be read. On my last visit to the library I was browsing the audio books and saw the audio version and picked it up on a whim: If I didn't have time to READ the book just yet, maybe I could find time to LISTEN to it. And I'm so glad that I did!

*** My Opinions ***

This book is odd. That's the best way to describe it. There were times when I thought, "What the heck am I listening to? What is going on in this story?!" and then there were times when I thought, "This book is fantastic!"

As the summary says, there are two different stories - that of the archaeologist and that of the detective - and at first these seem to be completely unrelated. One is being told in the present tense and is set in 1922 while the other is being recalled from memory about 40 or 50 years later. It wasn't until I was halfway through the CDs that the stories finally began to connect, and in ways that I totally didn't expect.

Publisher's Weekly says that the two main characters are
"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." I can't agree more. The two stories are so completely contradictory that I couldn't wait to get to the end to figure things out.

I should also mention that the story is epistolary in nature. Most of the action occurs in letters between various characters or in journal entries, telegraph messages, and other documents. I love books like this!

I should also mention that the book itself has tons of little illustrations in it like the one above. And each of the different formats (letters, journals, etc.) has a different font associated with it. I'll definitely be keeping my copy of the book to read at a (much) later date. I think I'll enjoy it more knowing how everything fits together and seeing the illustrations along with the text.

All that said however, I don't think I could have READ this book with as much pleasure as I had LISTENING to it. Knowledge of what happens in the plot and an understanding of the characters will go a long way toward enhancing my enjoyment when I finally do pick it up to read.

Oh, one more thing. I read in one review that the "solution" to the whole mystery was obvious from the middle of the book but I didn't think so. I was almost at the end before I figured out what was going on, and it was only at the VERY end that everything finally made sense.

*** Other Reviews? ***

I only found two other reviews of this book - if you reviewed it as well I'd love to add your info here too.*

* I'll add your review - and respond to all comments - when I get back from Disney World.


bermudaonion said...

Wow, as I was reading your review, I was thinking that book would be better read than listened to, so I was surprised to see you concluded just the opposite. It sounds intriguing.

Trisha said...

I have had this book for years and just haven't felt the motivation to pick it up and read it. Now it seems like I should! I am curious as to why you liked listening to it first. Do you think that listening to it was easier than reading it?

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I have actually gotten some audio books that come with little booklets just having the illustrations that go with the text. I think they all should do that! Sounds like an interesting book though either way!

Heather J. said...

bermudaonion and Trisha - This was was REALLY odd and there were times that I was listening and almost tuning things out b/c I was so confused. But then the story would start to make sense again and I'd be right back to paying attention. I think if I'd had to read all those confusing sections I might have gotten really frustrated and given up. It's easier (for me) to gloss over portions of an audio book than to skim confusing portions of a book. That's why listening to it before reading it worked for me.

Heather J. said...

rhapsodyinbooks - THAT is a great idea. I've never gotten an audio book like that - so cool!

Violet said...

very intriguing, just the title of the book interests me.

pussreboots said...

If the characters' voices were distinct enough I can see how listening to it would be easier than reading it. I think it would also do well as a miniseries or movie. Thanks for the link to my review!

Heather J. said...

violet - I agree!

pussreboots - there are three separate narrators - that worked well in my opinion.

Dreamybee said...

This sounds interesting, and I bet the book will be a lot of fun to read now with all the visual "extras" and whatnot. I'm not sure I'm a fan of the epistolary format though. The use of the diary in The Thirteenth Tale was actually one of my least favorite parts. That could be because it didn't quite fit in with the way the rest of the story was told though. It sounds like this book relies quite heavily on things like that, so perhaps it all fits together better.

Phyl said...

After reading your review, I really really want to read this book! Thanks so much for this!

Must. check. library.

Heather J. said...

Dreamybee - the entire book is built around the epistolary format, so if that isn't your thing then you probably won't like this one.

Phyl - Thanks for commenting! This is definitely not an EASY book but I quite enjoyed it.

Jenny Girl said...

This book was quite the dichotomy. Reading it at times it was like having needles in my eyes.

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