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Our Tragic Universe


Our Tragic Universe Cover

ISBN13: 9780151013913
ISBN10: 0151013918
Condition: Standard
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Average customer rating based on 2 comments:

Jack Rems, January 1, 2011 (view all comments by Jack Rems)
A bit like China Mieville's KRAKEN but neater.
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FNORDinc, July 19, 2010 (view all comments by FNORDinc)
Review: Our Tragic Universe, Scarlett Thomas

Forewarning, this is a positive review though I can see where it might not appear that way. It was just a very hard book to write about!

Our Tragic Universe (originally to be titled ‘Death of the Author’) is a nonstandard plot. Part time writer Meg is living in a small town England. She is living unhappily with her long term boyfriend and her dog, barely scraping by. Meg is continually trying to write her “Real Novel”, editing and paring down her words, never able to solidify where she wants to take it. In the meantime, she takes on the grunt work of the literary world, reviews of trash novels for a newspaper, and ghost writing teen fiction using formulaic methods.

Meg is caught in an interesting kludge of personal issues. Her best friend is having an affair that is messy. long time friends have stopped speaking to her. Her boyfriend is spiraling into depression and taking her on a manic roller coaster as he falls. She feels trapped and unaccomplished. Her only real bonus is a love interest in a man nearly twice her age, married, who she doesn’t dare see anymore since they accidentally kissed. Early in the book, Meg inadvertently takes on a review for some kind of new age “how the afterlife works by bob-know-it-all” book and the flavor of the story really begins to ripen. Oh yeah, and I should mention there is a mysterious beast prowling the neighboring townships scaring the hell out of the residents…

The story is vibrant but many readers may be confused by the cluttered nature of the novel. it is cluttered just as life itself is, so it is fitting, though as a result, difficult to read. At some points, OTU read like a reality TV show for a person who has absolutely nothing interesting going on in their life, detailing minutia like knitting. At other points, it is a technical reading manual for obsessive compulsive literature majors. This could have been toned down and approached less lecture like, but in the end, was an important part of the novel’s structure. .

Previously mentioned, the plot of Tragic Universe is nonstandard in the fact that it really doesn’t have a core/central plot. Items that you think are key plot points are proven to be red-herrings, no more important to life than the number of concurrent green lights you drove through on the way to work today. Interestingly though, it highlights how many things we notice daily which have no importance, but to which we add false importance.

Regardless, all of the characters are interesting and well thought out. it was these that kept me coming back for more. I nearly stopped reading this book 7-8 times. Each time I prepped to give up on it, some small detail would catch my attention again and I was drawn back in for another 30-40 pages.

Ultimately, I believe this waxing/waning of interest may have been part of Scarlett’s intent as she wrote this “storyless-story”. Really, it is nothing more than a sign of the abilities of the author, in that she wrote something so realistic/painful, that giving up and utter enthrallment are with in breaths of each other. Reading OTU was like a broken ceiling fan on a very hot day, I kept fiddling with it- trying to make it work. Frustrated, at times felt like a pointless endeavor, but in the end, when the gears moved and the air flowed over my sweat beaded forehead, the effort was worth it, a welcome cool breeze to mellow the experience.

I would not suggest this book for people who are easily frustrated, trust me here. Also, if you prefer your books garnished, placed on a plate, and then fed to you in bite size portions, you may not enjoy this and should perhaps look toward other reading material.

To quote the novel (referencing everyday life having less “story”), “You just have to let go of the plot when it gets too much. Do something else”. Though there were many times I wanted to stop reading, I instead just took breaks from it and am glad I completed it. Our Tragic Universe was a literary vacation, a trip away from the normal methodologies employed by authors, memorable in both it’s genius, complexity, and bearable frustration.

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Product Details

Thomas, Scarlett
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH)
Psychological fiction
Literature-A to Z
Edition Description:
Paper Over Board
Publication Date:
8 x 5.31 in 0.78 lb

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Our Tragic Universe Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$6.95 In Stock
Product details 384 pages Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) - English 9780151013913 Reviews:
"Review" by , "A delight, not least for the quality of Scarlett Thomas's writing, which is full of a very enjoyable life and energy."
"Review" by , "Freewheeling intellectual journey with no destination....For the omnivorous reader who, like Meg, can't get enough of the insights and passions and theories and inner lives of others, Thomas's fifth novel should be an addictive delight."
"Review" by , "Thomas alternately mines Meg's permanent writer's block for humor and terror, leading the larger book to mimic her decisions about the manuscript she can't just let go. Meg's endgame comes into view too soon, but Our Tragic Universe's discomfort with its own plot makes even its digressions into her reading list and her mundane fears curiously mesmerizing. (Grade: B+)"
"Review" by , "Few writers can mix science, philosophy, and humor as cleverly as Thomas, but [her] quirky stream of consciousness can be off-putting at first. Persistent readers will be charmed by Meg's outlook on life and rooting for her finally to discover her own unique voice. Best for readers who appreciate something out of the ordinary."
"Review" by , "Our Tragic Universe surprised me with where it goes, and in such a terrific way. Scarlett Thomas's prose is so addictive you can't help but fall deeper and deeper under her spell. How does she do it? She is a genius."
"Synopsis" by ,
The newest novel by Scarlett Thomas, this time centering on the end of the universe, the possibilty of superbeings, a mysterious beast of the moor, and the nature of storytelling.
"Synopsis" by , Can a story save your life?

Meg Carpenter is broke. Her novel is years overdue. So when a book called The Science of Living Forever lands on her desk, she jumps at the chance to review it, starting on a labyrinthine journey that takes her from mysterious beasts of the moor to forest fairies to ships-in-bottles, New Age theories of everything to physics to narrative theory, and forces her to ask: Does anyone really want to live forever? Our Tragic Universe finds connections where we didn't know they existed, breaks down conventions that keep us from our destinies, and shows how we just might be able to rewrite our futures.

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