Shellie (Layers of Thought)'s Reviews > Our Tragic Universe

Our Tragic Universe by Scarlett Thomas
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's review
Jun 01, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: country-uk-ireland, blog-reviews, genre-general-fiction-literature, genre-writing, read-in-2010, genre-socio-psych-philosophy-anthro, element-disabilties-mental-illness, genre-humor-satire, spec-fic-fant-slipstream-magicreali
Recommended to Shellie (Layers of Thought) by: Net Galley
Recommended for: Literature Lovers and Writers

Review originally posted on Layers of Thought.

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). The first in the series is The End of Mr. Y.

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Reading Progress

June 1, 2010 – Shelved
June 4, 2010 – Shelved as: country-uk-ireland
July 1, 2010 – Started Reading
July 1, 2010 –
page 30
August 30, 2010 –
page 250
September 6, 2010 – Finished Reading
September 8, 2010 –
page 350
September 13, 2010 –
page 444
100.0% "funny and intellectual a novel for fiction writers - review coming soon"
October 6, 2010 – Shelved as: blog-reviews
October 6, 2010 – Shelved as: genre-general-fiction-literature
October 6, 2010 – Shelved as: genre-writing
October 6, 2010 – Shelved as: read-in-2010
October 6, 2010 – Shelved as: genre-socio-psych-philosophy-anthro
October 6, 2010 – Shelved as: element-disabilties-mental-illness
October 6, 2010 – Shelved as: genre-humor-satire
February 27, 2011 – Shelved as: spec-fic-fant-slipstream-magicreali

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