Our Tragic Universe by Scarlett Thomas is about a 38 year old woman who is an author. The whole novel revolves around her life both in the present and in the past. The book can be read as a realistic novel, but there are elements in it that can be read as either supernatural, surrealistic or even psychological. It is 425 pages.
As in her books Popco and The End of Mr. Y numerous theories and ideas are woven into the book often through the dialogue. That is, in many of the dialogues the characters are explaining to each other various theories usually on a very basic and easy-to-follow level. In Our tragic universe most of the theories are about writing and stories, therefore people who find such theories interesting, such as writers, will probably also find the book interesting. Unless of course they have already heard or read all the theories and do not like repetitions.
There is not much action in the plot. Most of the plot takes place in a small town in Devonshire, and there are no murder mysteries or detectives included. There are also plenty of reflections from the first person narrator which give the story a rather slow pace. It is the kind of book I would describe as ‘interesting’ rather than ‘exciting’ and ‘curious’ rather than ‘funny’.
There are some good instances of typical daily life that can make the reader smile in recognition. But again, this is only if the reader has some sort of connection to writing, friends with distinctive theories or dogs.
The best thing about the book is all the small quirky ideas and stories that pop up from time to time.
The most disappointing thing about the book is the ending. Do not worry to read on, there will not be any spoilers. Although it is slow, there is throughout the story a steady build up. It is released near the end of the story but more like the puncturing of a balloon than the breaking of a dam. In itself this is very aligned with the rest of the novel. The disappointing part is that the story then trails off. It is as if it tries to make a knot on itself and fails. It is as if something is missing and this leaves the reader unsatisfied.
Our Tragic Universe is an interesting book that will keep the reader entertained throughout the first 418,5 pages, but it does not leave much material for contemplation afterwards.
Tag words for this book: Writing, stories, supernatural, relationship problems
This would be a good read for: Writers, people who like to read about everyday experiences, people who like theories for their own sake, people who like small stories for their own sake
This would not be a good read for: People who want action, people who want overwhelming supernatural or mysterious events, people who do not want to hear about writing
Suggested further reading: Popco and The End of Mr. Y.
While the theories in Our Tragic Universe are mostly about stories and writing, the theories in Popco are mostly about codes and mathematics and the theories in The End of Mr. Y are mostly about language, quantum physics and reality. The End of Mr. Y is definitely the most action packed of the three.
End note, some personal experiences concerning the book
I came to a bad start with Our Tragic Universe because I did not like the title. It sounded too much like an answer instead of a question or something leading up to other questions. But I was surprised in a good way after only a couple of pages.
When I saw Our Tragic Universe in a book shop I first contemplated buying it, because I had read two other books by Scarlett Thomas. Then I thought I should much rather buy a book by an author whom I did not know. I ended up buying it anyway, together with the book Temeraire by Naomi Novik (whom I had not read before) which will probably also be the next book I review.