Our Tragic Universe – Scarlett Thomas

I loved The End of Mr. Y– the blending of science with a fast paced plot produced a book that both informed and entertained me. I was excited to see that Scarlett Thomas had a new book out – especially once I saw that it shared the same gold lettering and mysteriously black page edges! Unfortunately Our Tragic Universe wasn’t in the same league as The End of Mr Y, but it did have many enjoyable sections.

Our Tragic Universe begins with Meg, a genre fiction writer, trying to review a book which claims that we will all be resurrected at the end of the world. Meg has complex relationships with all her friends and family, but most seem willing and able to hold interesting philosophical discussions with her. The book centres on these discussions, as Meg tries to understand the world around her. I loved reading all these little bits of philosophy:

I thought about the woman who couldn’t leave her house because she’d seen the Beast in her garden, Would she starve? If so would it be because she was too rational, or too irrational?

I know very little philosophy, but had heard of some of the examples before. I have a suspicion that anyone with a knowledge of philosophy would be familiar with many of the arguments already. 

Many of the discussions focused on the role of a story – whether life is a narrative or if books can be good without a beginning, middle or end. Our Tragic Universe seemed to be challenging these notions by reflecting life. The book had no plot and was just a series of scenes which were interesting on their own, but I found I was craving that narrative drive.

Meg was a realistic, lovable character, but I wish that the plot had some forward momentum. A few plot points were introduced, but the majority were left unresolved – again mirroring real life. The book makes a good discussion starter, but I finished the book feeling a little let down by the lack of any real events. Perhaps this says more about my expectations as a reader, but I do like my books to have a beginning, a middle and an end.

Overall I recommend this book to anyone looking for something a little bit different, but don’t expect a fast paced narrative or a clean resolution to anything!

The thoughts of other bloggers:

I enjoyed trying to make sense out of it. The Truth About Lies

…and although this novel did give me the warm and fuzzies, it’s a pretty sharp and observant treatise on contemporary life. Chasing Bawa

I can appreciate that Our Tragic Universe is very good at what it does – as I said earlier, though, liking it is a different matter. Follow The Thread

Have you enjoyed any books without a beginning, middle or end?

23 replies on “Our Tragic Universe – Scarlett Thomas”

Thanks for the link! I love fiction that has bits of science in it. It was a different pace from The End of Mr. Y (which I thought was brilliant) but I still liked it all the same. Maybe it’s because I don’t come across books like these that often.

Sakura, I’m a big fan of books with science in too. I agree that Scarlett Thomas produces some really original books, but the lack of plot in this book was a big let down for me. I hope she continues to produce these books with lots of science, but I hope her future ones have more of a plot. I’m pleased that you enjoyed it though 🙂

This sounds a little like Sophie’s World, which was hugely popular back when I was teaching philosophy to 6th formers. In terms of beginning, middle & endless books, it sounds rather like Huysmans’ Against Nature (I think about a guy who locks himself in his house and enjoys various sensual experiences one at a time, and not a lot else), which my wife has just finished reading and said she was glad she had but, as you say, found it could have done with a little narrative along the way.

Dan, I have always wanted to read Sophie’s World, but for some reason I haven’t got around to it yet. I’ll have to see if I can find a copy and push it to the top of the pile.

It sounds as though I should avoid Huysmans’ Against Nature – I do like to have some narrative 🙂

I read The End of Mr. Y and liked some of it a lot, particularly the sciencey bits (even though I’m sure the bulk of it flew over my head!). But while I don’t necessarily mind a book with lots of conversations about philosophical points, it frustrates me when the book sacrifices plot to these conversations. It can start to feel more like a treatise than a book, even if it’s not overtly preachy.

Jenny, I was a big fan of the science sections in Mr Y, but some went over my head too 🙂 Tragic Universe was a lot easier to understand, but if you like a plot then you might be best avoiding this one.

S. Krishna, I look forward to seeing what you make of this one. Mr Y is a hard act to follow so I’ll be interested to see what a non Mr Y reader thinks of it.

I just received a review copy of this one, so I’m pretty excited about that, especially as I’ve never read anything by Scarlett Thomas before. I’ve heard such good things about The End of Mr. Y, so I’m a bit disappointed to see that this one wasn’t quite as good for you. Hopefully I’ll like it a bit more as I have nothing to compare it to! Also, I don’t mind when books don’t have neat and tidy endings.

Steph, If you don’t mind books without tidy endings (or beginnings or middles 😉 ) then you might like this one. Scarlett Thomas is one of a kind, so it is good that you’re sampling her work. I hope that you enjoy it more than I did.

I haven’t read any books with scientific elements in, but I do own the other two books by Scarlett Thomas, which I still have to read. I wonder if it is the attractive covers that made me buy them though. I am sooo shallow!

vivienne, I only bought The End of Mr Y because I loved the shiny gold cover and black page edges!! I’m really pleased that I did as I seem to enjoy most books with black page edges 🙂 There is nothing wrong with being shallow occasionally – sometimes it is very rewarding!!

From what I´ve heard so far, nothing can compare to The End of Mr. Y! 😉 I have it on my tbr pile, hope I´ll enjoy it as much as everyone else. I´ve read PopCo by her though, and really liked that one! I´m putting Our Tragic Universe on the list, too.
I realy like all the cover art of her books, and so mysterious but easily recognizable in the library or store 🙂

Bina, The End of Mr Y is fabulous! I own PopCo and hope to read it at some point, but it doesn’t appeal as much as these two books did. Hopefully I’ll enjoy it anyway – I agree her cover art is really good too 🙂

I hadn’t heard of The End of Mr Y before but just looked it up and now added it to my wishlist. I love quirky books from time to time and I always love science so there’s a good chance I’ll like it!

Joanna, If you enjoy quirky books and ones with science in then Mr Y could become one of your all time favourites. I hope that you love it as much as I did 🙂

Andi, Cover design is really important. It was the only reason I picked up Mr Y in the first place. Publishers should ensure they do a good job, as it is make/break for some books.

Hi it does sound like you had similar thoughts to mine, I still can’t decide if I liked the storyless element or not, I liked how it reflected what was written in the text but in itself I didn’t really like it. It is certainly intreguing.
Have you read Pop Co.? It’s a little more ‘normal’ than The End of Mr Y and I found that less of it went over my head. It was one of my favourite reads last year

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