Thursday, 11 April 2013

Review: Our Tragic Universe by Scarlett Thomas

[Spoilers await, proceed with care!]

I was recommended this book by one of my friends from university. Like me, she studies both English and classical studies. I remember vividly the moment when I knew we would be good friends; we were sat in the campus café drinking large hot chocolates (with plenty of whipped cream of course) and I asked her about her favourite books. Cue a long, very excitable conversation where we realised that we both loved the same books, plus many recommendations of future reads. Flash forward a year and we’re sat in the same café catching up after the summer holiday and she tells me about a book that made her think of me, Our Tragic Universe by Scarlett Thomas. It goes without saying that I forgot the name and had to ask her two more times before I finally bought it on kindle. At the end of every term I always treat myself to about three books that are completely unrelated to anything I am studying, so this Easter I decided to finally give it a read.
And I had mixed feelings about it.

On the one hand found myself frustrated by the characters. Meg is a genre writer living in Dartmouth. She wants to write a novel but is constantly changing her mind on the focus. This is a theme echoed throughout her life; countless ideas and intentions with very little follow through. This is one of the elements that grated on me. I tend to take the view that if a decision needs making, I’ll do it. It’s not possible to avoid making decisions so it’s best to make the best you can in the situation. Therefore, the absolute stagnant nature of Meg and her life (and seemingly the lives of everyone around her) grated on me. She’s aware that her relationship has clearly run its course and yet she does nothing to change things. Similarly, she is bored of genre writing but doesn’t have the follow through to commit to the ideas for her novel. However, as the novel progressed I found myself enjoying it more.

Due to the wonders of the kindle I can tell you that it was 77% through the book that I decided I was enjoying it. Granted, Meg started making positive changes to her life which automatically increased my enjoyment, but I feel like I settled in the further I went. Throughout the book the characters are constantly having discussions about a wide range of ideas and writers, from Plato to Tolstoy. Particularly prominent is fictional Kelsey Newman’s book about the Omega point and the nature of the universe. At first, I found this less enjoyable and felt I was wading through the mass of information in the sections. This is probably to do with general fatigue after the end of Spring term, it did seem to contradict my mantra to read books completely unrelated to university when they were constantly referencing things I was studying! I definitely settled into this and by the end was thoroughly enjoying the discourses on tarot cards and Russian literature. There was also a mix of scientific ideas and an open ended mystical element that I found mixed quite interestingly. Also, just to clarify whilst certain characters did irritate me (my God that boyfriend of hers is just a massively annoying character!) there were many that I found interesting and engaging, Libby and Vi to name names!

I don’t want to completely ruin the book for you so I won’t expand any further on plot details. I can definitely appreciate why my friend loved it so much. Peppered throughout there are lots of interesting ideas that I really liked. Many of Meg’s ideas for her novel were actually really interesting, and I particularly loved the shawl knitted by Libby dubbed ‘the fabric of the universe’. In fact it was this element that made my friend think of me! Ultimately, I would definitely recommend this book as an interesting read but it wasn’t quite my cup of tea. I do however have another of Thomas’s novels, Bright Young Things, and based on this book I am looking forward to giving it a try.

So, what do you guys think? If you’ve read the book, did you like it? If not, would you read it based on this? Let me know and hopefully we can get a conversation going in the comments!

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