Library Journal an interview
with Arthur Phillips about his new novel THE EGYPTOLOGIST.
Two years ago, Arthur Phillips made an impressive debut with the
teasingly titled Prague. Now, with THE EGYPTOLOGIST, he's trying
something entirely different.
The setting of your new novel is far removed from near-contemporary
Budapest, where Prague took place. What inspired the leap?
I just had a flash, what seemed to me to be a really great idea for an
ending to a story. And, yes, I did panic a bit. This didn't feel like how Prague
had felt at the start, this seemed like a leap into territory I had no
knowledge of, a style I'd never tried. But the idea was too good to
There's plenty of historical detail here that makes the narrative feel
truly authentic. Did you do a lot of research?
Research always came second. I did do a fair amount, but it was always
a question of going ahead and writing first, and leaving blanks (literal
blanks) with the word research in them. Then, I'd go and track down
the answer I needed. In the process, I often learned something new that
inspired a later element of the story, but it was definitely a question of
amusing myself first and getting the truth second.
The publisher describes the novel's conclusion as harrowing, but at
times this work is also quite funny. How does one balance a comic tone
with harsher realities?
Great question, and I don't know the answer. If I had a funny idea, I
tended to try it out and see if it could be made to fit with the
characters or the plot as it stood. Usually, if it entertained me, I kept
it. That goes for dark ideas, too: whatever amused me and seemed to fit
got to stay, so the balance sorted itself out.
The Egyptologist is a series of interlocking puzzles, and Prague
opens with a complicated word game. Are you, at heart, a playful sort of
guy? And do you think of writing as a game?
I do like books that include an element of game-playing or puzzles, but
I mean that broadly. To me, one of the great pleasures of fiction is its
ability (sometimes, among others) to unlock what's going inside a person,
and that sort of decoding fascinates me. It may or may not be
paired with formal gaming (and I do like it), but unlocking the puzzle
that is other people's behavior never fails to interest me.
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