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Our Tragic Universe by Scarlett Thomas
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Our Tragic Universe

by Scarlett Thomas

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5546518,027 (3.46)73
Recently added bysunster09, lycomayflower, pdej, keibee, private library, Bluecalshar, bflanik21, janacloete, Possebon, kadyo
  1. 40
    The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas (souloftherose)
    souloftherose: Scarlett Thomas' earlier novel The End of Mr Y shares many similar themes with Our Tragic Universe
  2. 01
    Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder (buchowl)
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I was going to start by suggesting that Scarlett Thomas must be an extraordinary person if the protagonists of her novels are even remotely drawn upon her own character. Such an assertion is, however, probably superfluous as the simple fact of having written novels as engaging and thought provoking as 'PopCo', 'The End of Mister Y' and 'Our Tragic Universe' attests to talent beyond the ordinary. In Megan Carpenter, the narrator of 'Our Tragic Universe', Scarlett Thomas has excelled herself.

Megan is struggling to make a living from pieces of occasional journalism and writing teenage fiction under a pseudonym. Hers is a simple lifestyle complicated by the need to support her appalling and utterly inadequate boyfriend, Christopher, who spends his time engaged on voluntary work on a local heritage project. As the novel opens Megan has been reading 'The Science of Living Forever' a faux-scientific work by Kelsey Newman, a new-age charlatan who believes that the universe, which is really a computer, will for one fleeting moment become so dense and compacted as to be able to simulate a new universe that will never end, and in which everyone will live forever in infinite incarnations. Not surprisingly, in her review Megan unbends herself at some length, debunking the hapless Newman while offering a pellucid and enthralling exegesis of a number of scientific and quasi-scientific theories.

I remember attending a lecture several years ago on the concept of Horacian Liberty and the need for clarity of expression and thought, one of a series of talks on perspectives on the Renaissance. The crux of that particular address was the writer's responsibility to his or her readers, and the obligation to encapsulate even the most complex of theories in clear, simple language. This marvellous novel is a 400 page evocation of that principle. At different points within the book Megan Carpenter offers us an engaging exploration of the relationship between art and science, while also exposing the fallacious origins of many prevalent misconceptions about physics and chemistry. I can imagine people's eyes rolling now, wondering whether Ms Thomas's novel is just a hollow sounding board for her own pet likes and dislikes. I can reassure you, however, that the plot is solid, plausible and (most importantly) entirely (and instantly) gripping. I found myself caught in an insoluble dichotomy: I could not put this book down, but I was, simultaneously, reluctant to finish it

'Our Tragic Universe' is Ms Thomas at her exquisite best and Megan Carpenter is a simply astounding character: articulate, widely-read, tender, considerate and immensely empathetic.

Over the last thirty or so years I have read more than four thousand books, and would, without hesitation, place this in the top ten.

It also happens to be sumptuously presented by the Canongate Press. ( )
  Eyejaybee | Jan 28, 2015 |
This is the best book I have read all year. This is quite possibly one of the best books I've ever read in my entire life. It's very difficult for me to put into words what this book is about, because it's not actually about anything, but that's the point.

This book managed to include a bit of everything you can imagine: the Omega Point and living forever, adultery, knitting, magic, Cottingley fairies, a ship-in-a-bottle, Beast of Dartmoor, suicide... so on and so forth. Nothing seems to happen, but everything happens.

If you are the kind of person who gets frustrated by 'non-endings', this is probably not for you. If you like to read books that are thought-provoking, different, and intelligent then you should probably check it out. ( )
  raisedbybooks | Mar 12, 2014 |
With semi-comic characters who talk about Nietzsche whilst knitting, and try to debunk pseudoscience and supernatural experiences during dog-walks, Our Tragic Universe is a charmingly shambolic (to some, shambolically pretentious) blend of 1970's British kids' fantasy novel, eccentric chicklit with an M.A., metafiction and amusingly presented mundane detail. It has curious contrasts: ostensibly fairly high, polymathic intellectual content and some startlingly fresh metaphors alongside instances of over-simplicity, clumsiness, illogicality and even errors of source interpretation that would annoy a seriously scrupulous and learned reader. I kept describing the book to myself in terms such as “trashy” and “guilty pleasure” (having noticed I don't really like any “proper trash” among books the way I do with films and music). And then there was the chicklit-like feeling “I want to be friends with these characters.”

The book explores the idea of a "storyless story" or "realist fiction" which discards and critiques traditional narrative structures, as does the Alt-Lit / memoir-as-novel stuff I've been reading recently - those writers do indeed make it sound, as Meg the narrator here says, "as if the superobjective of everyone in the Western world was simply 'I wish to become a[n advert-perfect] fictional character" (p.316). They have made points similar to "when you write non-fiction everyone tries to prove that it's wrong and when you publish fiction, everyone tries to see the truth in it" (p.400) ... And I daresay Scarlett Thomas was rehearsing for her next publication Monkeys with Typewriters: How to Write Fiction and Unlock the Secret Power of Stories whilst writing this. Unlike Alt-Lit - and the self-help books Meg is commissioned to write a Sunday supplement feature about - Our Tragic Universe doesn't just set up mirrors facing into a depressing little goldfish bowl without comment. It's alive with other ideas and activities and people, exuberantly expressed.

Reading this, I experienced a similar sense of comfort as with Nicola Barker's books, or Come to the Edge and Inglorious by Joanna Kavenna. But Barker and Kavenna are both more accomplished creators of conceptual novels with underlying ideas. The reader has to think, whereas in Our Tragic Universe the ideas are always put on a plate for you by means of the characters' conversations and narrative. Barker's Clear does that to some extent, but it's more streamlined. Thomas seems to just throw around a lot of stuff she's interested in, seeing where it lands – which is why her characters seem so friendly: it's a more conversational and casual tone, like spending time with interesting people. And just as you don't expect friends always to agree with you or to be right 100% of the time, I kept forgiving things because I just liked the book and the protagonist so much regardless.

Read 9-11 June 2013. ( )
  antonomasia | Aug 15, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I found this really disappointing - after enjoying "The End of Mr Y" enormously, this was dull and failed to grab my attention. ( )
  pokarekareana | Aug 5, 2013 |
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this, after Mr Y. A writer escaping a cold damp house and a stagnant relationship thanks to a windfall which lets her live in a cottage and knit struck a chord. It's larded with explanations of physics, the Cottingly fairies, the Omega Point, which are frankly peripheral to the plot, despite the intent of the author. But the mordant daily observation and dry humour is rather nice. ( )
  adzebill | May 14, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 63 (next | show all)
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 compassion and warmth. I agreed with practically none of its arguments, but I was still happy to spend time debating with its characters, who are just like the exasperating, good-hearted real people you'd call your friends.
 
Thomas has the mesmerising power of a great storyteller – even if you’re not always sure whether what she’s telling you is exactly a story.
 
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Epigraph
Organise a fake holdup. Verify that your weapons are harmless, and take the most trustworthy hostage, so that no human life will be in danger (or one lapses into the criminal). Demand a ransom, and make it so that the operation creates as much commotion as possible--in short, remain close to the 'truth,' in order to test the reaction of the apparatus to a perfect simulacrum. You won't be able to do it: the network of artificial signs will become inextricably mixed up with real elements (a policeman will really fire on sight; a client of the bank will faint and die of a heart attack; one will actually pay you the phoney ransom), in short, you will immediately find yourself once again, without wishing it, in the real, one of whose functions is precisely to devour any attempt at simulation, to reduce everything to the real... -Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation
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For Rod, with love
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I was reading about how to survive the end of the universe when I got a text message from my friend Libby.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Meg Carpenter is broke. Her novel is years overdue. So when a book called The Science of Living Forever lands on her desk, she jumps at the chance to review it, starting on a labyrinthine journey that takes her from mysterious beasts of the moor to forest fairies to ships in bottles, New Age theories of everything to physics to narrative theory, and forces her to ask: Does anyone really want to live forever?… (more)

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Canongate Books

2 editions of this book were published by Canongate Books.

Editions: 184767089X, 1847671292

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