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Our Tragic Universe [Hardcover]

Scarlett Thomas
3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (74 customer reviews)

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Book Description

20 May 2010
'I was reading about the end of the universe when I got a text message from my friend Libby...' If Kelsey Newman's theory about the end of time is true, we are all going to live forever. But for Meg - locked in a hopeless relationship and with a deadline long-gone for a book that she can't write - this thought fills her with dread. Meg is lost in a labyrinth of her own devising. But could there be an important connection between a wild beast living on Dartmoor, a ship in a bottle, the science of time, a knitting pattern for the shape of the universe and the Cottingley Fairies? Or is her life just one long chain of coincidences? Smart, entrancing and buzzing with big ideas, Our Tragic Universe is a book about how relationships are created and destroyed, and how a story might just save your life.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Canongate Books Ltd; Reprint edition (20 May 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 184767089X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847670892
  • Product Dimensions: 14.4 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (74 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 402,892 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Scarlett Thomas was born in London in 1972. Her other novels include Bright Young Things, Going Out, PopCo and The End of Mr.Y, which was longlisted for the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction 2007. She teaches creative writing at the University of Kent. Her website is at www.scarlettthomas.co.uk

Product Description


* A delight, not least for the quality of Scarlett Thomas's writing... Full of life and energy. -- Philip Pullman * Ingenious and original. A cracking good yarn, fizzing with intelligence Philip Pullman on The End of Mr. Y * Our Tragic Universe surprised me, and in such a terrific way. It is so addictive, you can't help but fall deeper and deeper under Scarlett Thomas's spell. She's a genius. -- Douglas Coupland * Richly allusive, freewheeling and enormously satisfying Independent on Sunday on The End of Mr. Y * Immensely bright and very much on the cutting edge Guardian on The End of Mr. Y * A masterpiece... A brilliant and engaging story that makes you rethink the nature of existence and the true structure of the world Douglas Coupland on The End of Mr. Y * Thomas has the mesmerising power of a great story teller - even if you're not always sure what she's telling you is a story. -- Jake Kerridge Finacial Times * [Thomas's] great asset is a mad grab-bag of a mind whose imprint on the novel leaves it brimming with ideas ... for those who like their fiction 'meta', this is a veriegated delight. Time Out * [Our Tragic Universe] is a novel that fizzes with ideas ... And if you've never read a Thomas novel then let's be clear: the ideas are big. -- Claire Black Scotland on Sunday * Thomas can discuss quantum physics and philosophy while making you think you're reading a sparkling romantic comedy. -- Kate Saunders The Times * By virtue of her intellect and playfulness, Thomas now seems to belong in the same school as Borges and Kundera. -- Stephen Phelan Scottish Review of Books (Vol 6) * Is it odd to describe a book as kind? The commodity itself seems an increasingly rare thing in an internet-frazzled world, and so how unexpectedly wonderful to read Scarlett Thomas's Our Tragic Universe, a book that brims with a compassion and warmth. -- Patrick Ness The Guardian * Our brains hurt - in a good way - as we read Scarlett Thomas's smarty-pants new novel about time travel, the shape of the universe and possibly the Cottingly fairies. The Herald Magazine * This is a novel of big ideas, with an engaging and identifiable central character, which will appeal to David Mitchell fans. -- David Wood Waterstone's Books Quarterly * Thomas ... a lively writer with a great eye for detail ... once again excels at handling heavy topics lightly. -- Alice Fisher The Observer * Our Tragic Universe is a huge, ambitious experiment, carried out by one of the finest minds of her generation. SFX Magazine * A clever piece of metafiction. The Melbourne Age

About the Author

Scarlett Thomas was born in London in 1972. Her other novels include Bright Young Things, Going Out and The End of Mr.Y, which was longlisted for the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction 2007. She teaches creative writing at the University of Kent.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Giant Shaggy Dog Story? 31 May 2010
By Gregory S. Buzwell TOP 1000 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
There are lots of peculiar goings-on happening around Dartmouth. There may (or may not) be a large beast prowling the moors; a ship in a bottle which is washed ashore may (or may not) hold a significant meaning for the story's main character Meg; we may (or may not) all already be dead and living in some sort of eternal computer-generated afterlife and we may (or may not) be able to piece together meaningful thoughts on the nature of life via the study and practice of knitting, writing, loving, dog walking and reading Anna Karenina.

I guess you could say of any novel ever written that it is 'not for everyone', but I think that's true of 'Our Tragic Universe' in a deeper fashion than it is for just about any other book I've ever read. Personally I loved it - I loved the way the narrative bounced between esoteric ideas such as the Cottingley Fairies that so haunted Conan Doyle one minute and then the meaning of Tarot cards the next; all interspersed with thoughts on the difficult nature of human relationships, the importance of friends and the desire to find your own place in the universe.

One of the key themes of the novel is that stories don't have to have a narrative, they don't need to have a beginning, a middle and an end. Since many aspects of life dribble vaguely onwards towards no readily discernable goal why should a novel be burdened with the need to tell a story?
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unfathomable, but compelling 23 May 2010
This is a difficult book for me to review. I have no idea what the point of it all was or what it was really about. All I can say is that I did find it a compelling read. When I started it I wasn't sure if I would continue reading it. 100 pages in and I felt that nothing had really happened. But then I found myself being drawn into the story of Meg Carpenter, a writer of genre fiction, and a would-be writer of literary novels. She's a likeable character, stuck in a relationship with Christopher, who finds fault with everything she does. There are some moments early on in the book where I got quite excited about what might be about to happen, and I did feel that those moments weren't followed through. I think I was waiting for a real wow moment to come out of them.

I can't put my finger on why I liked this book as much as I did. I think it's all down to the author's writing style, her sympathetic heroine and an intriguing, if unfathomable story, which did keep me interested throughout, despite the philosophical parts that didn't mean a great deal to me.

A worthy follow up to The End of Mr Y in my opinion. I'll definitely read more of Scarlett Thomas's work.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic fiction to make you think 24 Jun 2010
I really enjoyed Popco and The End of Mr Y by Scarlett Thomas so I was really looking forward to reading her latest book.

The cover and book design are gorgeous and after quoting Nietsche, Plato and Chekhov, the first sentence in the book is now one of my favourite opening sentences:

"I was reading about how to survive the end of the universe when I got a text message from my friend Libby."

Meg is an impoverished writer in an unhappy relationship. She should be writing her great masterpiece but instead is paying the bills by writing bad genre fiction and reviewing books for the local newspaper.

I enjoyed this book immensely but one reason for me taking so long to write this review is that I struggled to pin down what this book is actually about and how to review it. There are various subplots; Meg's failing relationship with her partner Christopher, her attraction to an older man, her continued attempts to write her book, the strange book she reviews about how to survive the end of the universe. But I think the main theme of the book is stories and narrative. The question of whether a storyless story can exist is discussed several times.

Like her previous books, I feel like Scarlett Thomas is writing about more than I can understand but despite that (and perhaps because of it) I always enjoy getting immersed in her worlds and characters.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Zen tale for modern times? 25 Aug 2010
By Straightforward TOP 500 REVIEWER
In the Orient, a long time ago, Taoist and Zen monks used to tell stories that would illustrate the multi-faceted nature of our existence; simple tales that could be interpreted in many ways, and that would reveal more upon further reflection. Nowadays, some people find them very frustrating, because at times they can seem to offer very little reward to the listener - or the reader. These are Zen tales, and Scarlett Thomas refers to them very often in her new book.

Here's an example:

"The great Taoist master Chuang Tzu once dreamt that he was a butterfly fluttering here and there. In the dream he had no awareness of his individuality as a person. He was only a butterfly. Suddenly, he awoke and found himself laying there, a person once again. But then he thought to himself, "Was I before a man who dreamt about being a butterfly, or am I now a butterfly who dreams about being a man?" *

This story, one of the less cryptic ones, provokes less frustration than most from readers. Some people see it as mere philosophical babble, others that he was reflecting upon how we interpret our reality, and the way that time is experienced - if butterflies live for only a short time, then how can the span of our lives fit into a dream it has?

The point of the story is to offer an object to meditate upon,, rather than a simple narrative to listen to.

Many people will find 'Our Tragic Universe' similarly frustrating, because it has a very different subject to her previous book, which was, to me, about science (which by it's very nature categorises everything). Here, she categorises very little, but leaves things to the reader to decide.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A new and possibly better Scarlett T
A lovely rambling attempt at the storyless story. Extremely well written and thought out. I should like to see from the author more Tristram Shandy and maybe Nolan stuff and... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Une Soirée De La Sémiotique
5.0 out of 5 stars Cracking story
I see that Scarlet Thomas divides readers. I'm not sure why the reactions are quite so strong. There is an implication in some reviews that to enjoy her writing you might have to... Read more
Published 4 months ago by PDG
1.0 out of 5 stars what was the point
The blurb on the reverse of this book intrigued me - but the reading of this book did not!!! What a waste of time. Read more
Published 7 months ago by booboo
4.0 out of 5 stars Like it!
I'm a huge Scarlett Thomas fan. I really like this book. Like her other books this is as well clever and well written. I like 'The End of Mr. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Jayne Jensen
2.0 out of 5 stars Storyless story anyone?
After loving its two immediate predecessors; `Popco' and `The End of Mr Y' I had great hopes for `Our Tragic Universe': alas, to no avail. Read more
Published 19 months ago by still searching
5.0 out of 5 stars Different than her previous books but still worthwhile
Reviews of this book seem to cluster more than usually round the top and bottom. I can see why- people who loved her previous two books- "The end of Mr Y" and "Popco"- might not... Read more
Published 21 months ago by Aquilonian
5.0 out of 5 stars An amazing book with a unique 'voice.'
I was completely hooked on this book from the very few pages, even though I hadn't worked out where it was leading or even what it was about. I still haven't actually. Read more
Published 22 months ago by H. Whitehead
5.0 out of 5 stars An amazing tour de force
I first read this about a year ago, very shortly after it was published. It is unusual for me to re-read a novel so soon after my first reading of it. Read more
Published 22 months ago by James Brydon
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved It!
I loved this book. Without meaning to sound pretentious, it has echoes of Virginia Woolf for me, in its style (a sort of more accessible `stream of consciousness' from the... Read more
Published 23 months ago by Blue Cat
5.0 out of 5 stars The End Of Narrative
I love Scarlett Thomas. I love the fact she writes novels that are unabashedly about big ideas. Philosophical novels spliced with alternative theories from the worlds of science... Read more
Published on 22 July 2012 by Genome
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