Monday, September 13, 2010

review : our tragic universe

Our Tragic Universe, Scarlett Thomas

From the author of the brilliant, physics-inspired sci-fi-ish novel The End of Mr Y comes Our Tragic Universe. Looking at it one way, not a lot happens in this book. But if you look at it at a certain angle a whole mess of ideas (some unfinished and others half-realised) come spilling out. The protagonist, Meg, is struggling to write her ‘proper’ novel – instead distracted by the formulaic genre novels she churns out to pay for her rather meagre existence, which amounts to a damp flat in Devon with her unemployed (and quite frankly rather whingy) boyfriend Christopher and her dog B (who is very intelligent) and a cast of brilliantly curious characters (including a mysterious Beast). Lit up in lights, screaming at her for attention is the uncomfortable (but pleasurable oh please let it be pleasurable) truth about the kiss Meg shared with the handsome, older, curator of the local museum (and how she mostly wishes it would happen again). Thomas leads us down one-way streets, to dead ends, leaves one three-page, involved philosophical musing to head off down another. She explores the mechanics and methods of writing – the ‘storyless story’, the death of the author, metafiction – as well as philosophy, Zen Buddhism, poltergeists, magic, ships in bottles, fame and whether or not we’re actually all living in some kind of fictional Second World without ever knowing it.

What happens in Our Tragic Universe is what happens after Meg reads a book she thinks she’s supposed to review and it turns out it hadn’t ever been sent to her to review in the first place.

I think I loved it. It was certainly relevant to my life - it was as though my Novel 1 teacher was reading this at the same pace as me and would bring these very topics up for discussion in class. I definitely liked it a lot. I have to think that everything that Thomas (actually, I'm going to call her Scarlett, because I think we'd be friends) everything that Scarlett did in the novel, she did intentionally, because she's so smart and The End of My Y was just so brilliant and perfect. So when I sit back and think 'Well that ramble was all for nothing (and added nothing to your story) wasn't it Scarlett?' I think again about how she's (perhaps with just a smidge of an echo of intellectual pretention) just letting us know something new, and letting us be open to a different kind of storytelling. One outside of the neat 'beginning-middle-end' Western story tradition.

2 comments:

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