Thursday, October 28, 2010

Not so tragic after all

Our Tragic Universe
by Scarlett Thomas

It has now been several weeks since I read Scarlett Thomas's Our Tragic Universe. The novel's description sounded hugely appealing to me, but 30 pages in, I wasn't loving it. In response to a friend's query I wrote, "My immediate response to the opening is slightly negative. I haven't really connected with the first-person narrator, the struggling novelist. And the book is not overtly funny yet. So far, it's sort of gray and gloomy and British, and seems to be peopled with not wildly likeable characters preoccupied with adultery. Of course, I have a nasty cold, and that could be coloring my perceptions. That said, I suspect that I will finish reading it, and I have a feeling that it will take a turn for the better."

I was right. It did get better, and I certainly did warm up to central character. Meg is a novelist. Sort of. She makes a living churning out ghost-written genre dreck and book reviews. She's been working on a serious literary novel for years now, but can't seem to get more than 43 words on the page. Yes, that's correct, 43 words. As the story progresses, we watch Meg struggle with her relationship, her friendships, finances, temptation, and her craft. There are many philosophical ruminations on the nature of story-telling. It's quite interesting--to a point. (Thomas lost me at the Zen koans.) Along the way, we meet some lovely characters and some not-so-lovely characters, and we get to laugh a bit. (Although the humor never was as overt as I expected.)

I've subsequently read and heard so many raves of this novel that I felt the need to marinate a bit before writing my review. While I did warm up to Our Tragic Universe, I'm afraid I still don't quite get the raves. It was enjoyable and well-written, but that's about as far as I'm willing to go. Give it a read and decide for yourself. If, however, it doesn't grab you right away, consider giving Ms. Thomas a bit of latitude to win you over.

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