Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Review by Shellie: Our Tragic Universe ~ by Scarlett Thomas


A trip to the edge of reality while examining literary issues, all compressed into a dryly humorous, almost romantic, and philosophical novel.

Mini Blurb:  Told in the first person, our narrator is an almost 40 year old woman living on the Southern Coast of England. She lives in a damp and small space with her dog and her moody lover. A ghost writer within the science fiction genre, our heroine really wants to write literature – her “novel”. Sadly she is having a horrific case of writer’s block. This is complicated by her questions around the nature of existence and reality as the fates conspire against her. Surrounded by a variety of quirky characters, most of whom are literary minded. It is a quirky intellectual story about writing novels within a novel.

What I think:   This novel is metafiction – a story about writing stories. Where the reader is taken on a literary ride to the edge of reality with our heroine as she questions the nature of life, while teetering on the edge of the paranormal. Interestingly she never quite takes the leap. Like myself, readers may wish to jump, or better yet to be pushed into the speculative realm while reading this very layered book.

I think several of the main elements addressed in the novel are paradoxes; contrasts within our consciousness and in our lives, especially those which help us examine our beliefs around what we believe to be real and what is fantasy. Specifically, when reading I began to ask myself - what is the boundary between reality and myth? What is the difference between truth and what we believe to be true? And here is the best one - is our life’s purpose to ask questions or to find the answers?

More questions came up with the inclusion of a number of literary and intellectual elements to consider and define. I found myself pondered things like - What is narrative, or tragedy, and what the heck is post modernism? I now know the differences between genre novels and literature, and am aware of story formulas and that there are some conversations within literary circles about creating a “storyless story” because of this book.

As you can see from my questions, this was a complex and intellectual read. However with its dry self-defacing humor, which Brits do so well, it was lightened up. I laughed quite a few times at the impossibly human and slightly tragic situations, where the author takes a fact which ordinarily would be heart wrenching and twists it into humor. The story brings up issues around our humanness such as fidelity, depression and OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), and also questions our attachments to seemingly unavailable love interests. With all its human quirkiness around the choices the characters make, it’s easy to relate to the messes we can make of our lives.

The version that I read was the UK version which had not yet been edited for the US. I am hoping that in the Americanized version changes have been made, since many of the references may be difficult for US and other readers. I am fortunate to have a personal translator (i.e. John the British hubby), otherwise I would have been lost in the cultural language, wording and references. 

I really enjoyed this novel, although it will not be for everyone. It requires examination and is not an escapist read. I have seen it described as chick lit, but I’m not so sure. If it is its chick lit, then perhaps it is for chicks aspiring to PhDs in literature and philosophy!

This book is apparently the third part of a loosely linked trilogy, but it is a standalone too. I would recommend this for anyone who writes fiction, enjoys metafiction, likes the Brits, and would be up to a challenge – quite a big one at that.

A big 4 Star rating for this literary novel. I have the second of the three-part set sitting on my nightstand - Pop Co (purchased in the UK) is the first in the series, and The End of Mr. Y. is the second.


If your interested in finding out more about this novel please see Layers of Thought’s preview for Our Tragic Universe. There is author info, book blurb, and purchasing links.

Amazon purchasing links for US/Canada/UK for Our Tragic Universe.

51GWejqhcsL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_ 61pVeZfgytL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_

As I have mentioned, this novel was originally published in the UK and has just been released (September first) in the US. I have seen it being mentioned in literary circles as one the fall’s hottest literary reads. For blogger with ereaders, I do believe it may still be available on NetGalley for review, in its completely Americanized version.

This book will be included in several challenges – Feel My Sorrow, New Author, and a few others to be determined.

Thanks for reading.


David Halpin. said...

Great review, Shellie, and I'm glad you enjoyed the maze!

They don't REALLY change books for the state's, do they!?
'PopCo' was out before 'The End of Mr Y' over here, have they changed the order for American readers?

Unknown said...

Dave -
This was a very interesting read... I can see as a writer why you liked it. I added the bit about the book being from a loosely based series because of your tip - almost put that in the review.

Not sure if they changed the order, I had it reversed but then checked and oh well....I will check again here...

Yes they have to re edit the books. Believe it or not the language differences are amazing. John and I spend the first 3 years translating continually... now its just a few times a day.

For the first several years visiting the UK, I did not understand up 75% of what was being spoken. Now I am right at home.

Congrats on your new family member!

David Halpin. said...

Well, that's very interesting re: the book translations; I wouldn't have imagined that at all.

Unknown said...

Dave -
You wouldn't figure that since we speak the same language... amazing.
And then the different accents... gets really complicated.

Its amazing we can communicate effectively at all... a giant tower of babel... lol

Unknown said...

Doesn't sound like a chick lit book to me either. But it does however sound intriguing and worth looking into.

Blodeuedd said...

I didn't know she had written more, I liked Mr Y cos it was so freaky

Unknown said...

Lilly -
I was annoyed with that quote about this book being chick lit... I would venture to say that it was a man...

You may really like this. I will be curious to see if you do and your thought.

Blodeuedd -
I had never heard of this but thought it sounded interesting. Then Dave... who commented above told me it was a trilogy.

Yes this was sort of weird too... like there was this beast in the story which they didn't define as real or mystical. It just left you hanging.

Unknown said...

Dave -
I fixed my note.. yes PopCo was the first of the series. Cheers. :)

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