Sunday, September 26, 2010

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) 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 hadn’t ever sent it to her to review in the first place.

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