Archive for October 16th, 2010

Our Tragic Universe

Saturday, October 16th, 2010


By Scarlett Thomas

The Short Take:

This very talky book is fascinating if you like lengthy discussions about things like the nature of fiction, simulation versus reality, Chekov versus Tolstoy, the end of the universe, storyless stories, Zen Buddhism, eternity, and self-help books. In fact, this is almost a storyless story itself. I found myself sometimes irritated and often intrigued, but could not put it down.

Why?

Thomas is obviously a great writer. In lesser hands, this book would have been a disaster.┬áHer protagonist, Meg, is a mess of a loser but you still care what happens to her. Very much. All the long, thoughty discussions (often well oiled by quantities of wine) could be off putting but they are not plot digressions, they’re plot explanations. More or less.

The whole thing could be seen as rather annoyingly pretentious, but that’s pretty much the point (I think). Aren’t we all rather pretentious about our own lives? Spouting like experts about subjects we really know little about? It’s basically pretentious of me to be writing this book blog! And yet…

Bottom line, the whole experience was strangely compelling. I felt like I was being let in on a book-long joke of sorts. And, it really isn’t a storyless story, Meg does transform as the book advances. Thank goodness.

A Little Plot:

Meg is a writer. She’s supposed to be working on a masterly novel, instead she supports her complete disaster of a boyfriend with a cobbled livelihood from writing science book reviews and genre science fiction novels. The result is that she doesn’t even have enough money to keep her email or cell phone functioning. And she has deleted all but 43 words of her supposed novel.

Then she reads a book called The Science of Living Forever in order to write a review. Turns out it was the wrong book, but reading it sets the wheels in motion for change.

For more about Scarlett Thomas and her books, click here. I know this book is not for everyone, but I certainly intend to search out more works by Scarlett Thomas.

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