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Our Tragic Universe Paperback – 6 May 2010

3.3 out of 5 stars 76 customer reviews

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Paperback, 6 May 2010
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Product details

  • Paperback: 440 pages
  • Publisher: Canongate Books Ltd; Export ed edition (6 May 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847677622
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847677624
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 2.9 x 23.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (76 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,313,980 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

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.


"'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"

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
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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