Friday, November 5, 2010
Our Tragic Universe by Scarlett Thomas
Author: Scarlett Thomas
Genre: Fiction (Chick Lit/Literary)
Love/Hate?: I really can't say. Both?
Did I finish?: Yes -- I was consumed by it!
Why did I get this book?: The cover, and the font, and it was an author I'd never heard of.
Do you like the cover?: Yes. Quite striking, and very appropriate to the novel.
First line from book: I was reading about how to survive the end of the universe when I got a text message from my friend Libby.
Review: This is a challenging book to review: the entire time I was reading it, I was convinced I hated it; only I'd stop reading it and find myself chewing over the themes of the story or the narrator or the promise of where the novel was going. In the end, I have to say this is a very good and well-written novel that is maddening and thought-provoking and a little bit pretty.
The story is fairly simple: our narrator, Meg, struggles with her life. She's living with someone she thinks she might not love anymore; she writes genre fiction that embarrasses her and wants nothing more than to finish a great literary novel; her friends and family have their own particular tragedies that she can't fix. For a while, I really loathed Meg -- she was just so ambivalent about everything -- until I realized that much of what Meg both did and wished to do really hit upon how I felt about my life and the things I wanted to do. Meg's relationship reminded me of my first serious relationship after college, right down to the struggling for money and tip-toeing around a depressed partner (it felt so similar I started conflating Meg with me so when Meg later indicated that she's in her late 30s and not mid-20s, I kind of started in surprise). She was remarkably compassionate when my uglier self would have been mean and she was aggravatingly passive when my bolder self would have acted. It was a shock -- and in the end, kind of a pleasure -- to find myself so challenged by a novel I started as a throwaway.
Thomas clearly loves Dostoevsky: his works and his style of writing show throughout the story; Thomas' characters have long philosophical conversations that are both interesting and a little indulgent. (Unlike Meg and Thomas, I skipped all the rumination-ing in Anna Karenina to get to the hot affair part.)
There's so much unanswered in Thomas' book and it's unsettling and appealing. I usually prefer to have my stories end neatly but in this case, it was appropriate and well-done.