With a tongue-in-cheek title such as "Our Tragic Universe," you know you're in for something off the beaten path. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, which is a first-person episodic, mainstream novel. Or is it? Perhaps there's more going on here than meets the eye. For instance, think about this: the protagonist of the story, Meg, sounds an AWFUL lot like the book's author, Scarlett Thomas. They're both writers, teachers, British, mid-thirties, have academic chums...and the book is written in first person. So you keep thinking, hmm, is she talking about herself here? Is this autobiographical? And then there's the conversations throughout about philosophies of writing, about books, about writing a "storyless story" (which makes you think, Hey! This book itself seems to qualify for that. What's going on here?) Normally, I don't enjoy metafictions. But what makes this different from, say, If on a Winter's Night a Traveler (Everyman's Library (Cloth)), is that you don't feel the author is playing headgames at your expense. She seems to be inviting you to play along with her (perhaps a hint is that early on, Meg tells how she loves solving crossword puzzles--the British kind, of course). Suddenly you realize that you are reading--and enjoying--a non-standard, "storyless" novel. Well, it's episodic. So is Deep in the Shade of Paradise: A Novel, which I highly recommend, but wouldn't categorize as breaking the rules, really. It's just a story about a period in these people's lives, told by one of the people, named Meg. If you don't like Meg or her friends, the lack of plot is going to be a problem for you. And if you aren't well-versed in narrative theory, the whole pseudo-metafictional thing may just be a bore for you. But for me, as it happens, I'm reading up on how to write a novel, so I found these conversations very enjoyable. I've read Frank Tippler, and Rupert Sheldrake. I know about the Omega Point (it's the end of the universe), and morphic resonance (it's your dog knowing when you're about to walk in the door, though I have to say my dog doesn't do that.)
I was puzzled by Meg's relationship with Christopher. She's living for seven years with this loser who treats her with no respect. Abuse, is more like it. And we have no clue until near the end of the book as to why Meg ever took up with this schlmiel (he's angular and sexy, whatever that means). But why does she stay with him? She's a very "together" person, she's making a living as a writer, she's quite an admirable person in some ways. She certainly has a good relationship with her dog. So why does it take her SO LONG to deal with it? Another thing that puzzled me was why everyone in the book was having an affair. Is everyone in Britain morally bankrupt? Or is this just some chicklit convention I'm not aware of? Of relationships and such, Meg is mostly mum. We don't really know, often, what her reaction is to an event, such as her boyfriend saying something abusive. She'll just carry on by taking the dog for a walk, and never mentioning the conversation again, or until later. She withholds her thoughts and feelings at odd times, and tells us the backstories of the other characters in a seemingly haphazard way. But she's such a good writer that I'm sure all of this was done on purpose, and I'm not smart enough to get it. I would've enjoyed the book more had it explored the pseudo-science bits more. It seems to be more than psuedo in the book, and yet in the end, we have a "Zeb Ross" ending, where all is explained rationally away (you'll know what I mean when you read the book) at the end by the scientists.
Thomas makes us think about fiction, and how we wish there were meaning in our lives. That things happen for a reason, and that if you work hard and heroically, you will get the girl and vanquish the dragon. We like to think that the Universe is not just some tragic joke. That all can be fixed and have a happy ending in 22 minutes plus commercials. That there are secret powers we know nothing about, and we're all immortal. That we aren't living the lives we see on television, so we jump from bed to bed looking for the right sitcom to live in. Thomas makes you question the assumptions your life is built upon. There's a lot to think about and enjoy here. I'm glad I got a chance to read this, thanks to the Vine program. Thanks, Amazon!