Pin It
Favorite

'Our Tragic Universe,' Scarlett Thomas 

In a “storyless story” that analyzes storytelling, here’s a surprise: The plot’s weak.

click to enlarge Scarlett Thomas' Our Tragic Universe
  • Scarlett Thomas' Our Tragic Universe

This book’s trying to trick me. All throughout, it mounts arguments against anyone reviewing it, offering up theories as to how to properly enjoy or even construct a novel. 

Meg, the protagonist in Our Tragic Universe, isn’t sure what to believe. She’s a genre novelist who longs to put out a great literary effort, but instead finds herself stringing along paycheck-to-paycheck (well, paycheque, since the novel’s British) from her day job as a scientific book reviewer.

Part love story, part philosophical treatise and part literary theory textbook, Our Tragic Universe isn’t quite sure what to make of itself. It’s ironic, or postmodern, or meta. Or something.

At any rate, it’s one of those books that has you feeling a low, throbbing pressure just behind your eyes that grows with every page. The characters discuss things like the storyless story, which doesn’t follow the traditional three-act plot, even as their own stories subvert typical narrative structure right in front of your eyes.

It’s a writer writing about a writer who’s having trouble writing. As such, it’s likely catering to a small group of people: novelists, aspiring novelists, English majors and baristas (i.e., former English majors). The pseudo-scientific philosophical theories of everything don’t really seem like they fit. But the long, rambling conversations about stories — how we approach them, and even what the point is in telling them at all — feel much more appropriate. These small flashes kept me engaged, but weren’t enough to make me overlook the problems.

The novel might very well be brilliant. It might also be crap. Mostly, it just feels like a novel that’s trying very hard to mimic the ideas contained within. Perhaps it’s trying, as Meg says, to be a story “with so much emotional truth that none of it seems like a story at all.” That may be a lofty goal, but it really doesn’t make for much of a novel. It also invites the somewhat snide question: How are we supposed to enjoy a story that’s not really a story at all?

  • Pin It

Speaking of Books

Latest in Arts & Culture

  • United by Song and Dance
  • United by Song and Dance

    A local powwow aims to bring people together across ethnicities for a colorful cultural celebration
    • Aug 25, 2016
  • Float On
  • Float On

    To find an hour of glorious silence, I had to enclose myself in a tank full of salt water
    • Aug 25, 2016
  • BASEBALL | By The Numbers
  • BASEBALL | By The Numbers

    Dogs, dingers and dastardly Diaz stuff
    • Aug 25, 2016
  • More »

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Today | Sun | Mon | Tue | Wed | Thu | Fri
Gathering At The Falls Powwow

Gathering At The Falls Powwow @ Riverfront Park

Sat., Aug. 27, 1-5 & 7-11 p.m. and Sun., Aug. 28, 12-5 p.m.

All of today's events | Staff Picks

More by Dan Herman

  • Bob's Burgers
  • Bob's Burgers

    A new animated feature that's still impossible to describe in a sentence.
    • Jan 5, 2011
  • Waking Sleeping Beauty
  • Waking Sleeping Beauty

    The death and rebirth of Disney animation
    • Dec 29, 2010
  • Boardwalk Empire
  • Boardwalk Empire

    Like Mad Men, only 40 years earlier and less fixated on the props.
    • Dec 1, 2010
  • More »

Most Commented On

  • Float On

    To find an hour of glorious silence, I had to enclose myself in a tank full of salt water
    • Aug 25, 2016
  • Family Values

    A North Idaho clan is making a triple impact on the local food scene
    • Aug 25, 2016
  • More »

Top Tags in
Culture & Food

Food


for your consideration


last word


Opening


Beer


Readers also liked…

  • Spirit Matters
  • Spirit Matters

    A new type of yoga (featuring Downward Drunken Dog!)
    • Mar 11, 2015
  • Blind Faith
  • Blind Faith

    In a vacant lot by the railroad tracks, an unlikely friendship is found
    • Jan 7, 2016

© 2016 Inlander
Website powered by Foundation