I read “Prague,” Arthur Phillips’ debut novel, with rare pleasure (thanks Elle).
In the year before reading “Prague,” pressured by graduate school work, I had drifted into non-fiction. Phillips’ book reminded me of the pleasure of reading stories where the mind can create as many scenarios as it wishes. Plus, the book had a post-communism Eastern Europea sensibility that spoke to me on a personal level.
“The Egyptologist,” now out in paperback, is supposedly a different book (I am once again behind on my reading of fiction). To catch up, I went to hear Phillips read from the book and answer question at a Barnes and Noble store on the Upper East Side.
As I listened to Phillips read his own work (employing an Aussie accent at one point) and crack self-deprecating jokes, I wondered how one can write such different books — an ideas-driven coming of age tale of a city and its different cultures (“Prague”) and a “how dunn it?” mystery set in 1920s Egypt (“The Egyptologist”). Phillips says his different books are the products of fear, laziness and a short attention span. I also think this guy is having fun writing — he said his next book will be a dark Victorian ghost story. Expats, egyptologists and ghosts — that is one hell of a messy resume.
Phillips is much skinnier in person than I would have imagined — a stick figure with a charming smile, his body further elongated by the white stripes on his pants and his fitted black shirt. And as it turns out, he knows the Romanian word for “longing” and can also spell it.