Review: Our Tragic Universe by Scarlett Thomas

Our Tragic Universe - Scarlett Thomas

Today I went to the supermarket to pick up some cigarettes. Some bitch with a lottery ticket cut right in front of me in the queue, looked me right in the eye while she did it too, daring me to challenge her. I did not. I had a really long discussion with the woman at the till about how I do not look my age, and how I'm constantly carded because I look sixteen when really I am almost twenty-four. This was a boring discussion. Then I remembered that I needed milk. I thought for a moment there was none left in the size of jug that I like. Then I looked closer and I saw some right at the bottom way at the back. So I grabbed two jugs and then paid for it. Then I walked home. It took me around forty minutes to walk home and I got to thinking about what it's all about. I mean what's going on with me and with life in the general sense. I'd had a massive row with my boyfriend earlier in the day I was going over it, figuring out who was right and who was wrong. I saw a couple of dogs playing in the park on my way past. I thought how wonderful it would be to have the attitude of a dog: there's no yesterday, there's no tomorrow, there's only the here and now, chasing this ball and fleeing about like nobody's business. Those dogs were just bursting with joy at the treat of being alive! So I got home and tossed out the recycling because it's Thursday and then sorted through some laundry. I made some tea. I smoked a couple of my cigarettes. I stared out the window. I live on the second floor of my apartment block and it can be fun to sit and watch the seagulls soar as they are right at eye level. Sometimes they fly so close to the window, screaming and wheeling around. They wind the cats right up. I got to thinking some more about the way that animals live in the moment, every second of their lives is about that second. They make no plans, they have no regrets. These seagulls cared for nothing at that moment except their flight. I do not know what they were doing. Maybe they didn't know either. So after a while I got tired of sitting there so I roamed around a little and then I put on my running shoes and went for a run up to the river and then back. It was chilly, but not a cutting cold as it had been during my run the previous day. And on and on and blah and blah and yawn ......


And are you getting my point? This is Our Tragic Universe, or rather my tragic universe. This is a story about daily life with no plot. It's going nowhere. I could ramble on some more. I could add in some interesting events, I've got plenty. I could give more of an insight into my opinions and thoughts on the world around me, I've got plenty of those too ....But they won't add anything to the main plot, because there is no main plot. There's just me, living my life. Shit happens along the way but essentially I'm just staggering along doing the best I can, the same of which can be said about the storyline in Our Tragic Universe. Or the lack of storyline. I know, I know ..... This is supposed to be the whole point. Can we bend the literary rules and create a novel with no conventional outline? Can we create the storyless story? The answer, in my opinion, is no. Not if you want people to care.


I did not care for Meg. The portrayal of her dying relationship with Christopher was the only redeeming thing about an otherwise pretentious and highly dull character. This book is far too heavy in, I'm sure what Scarlett Thomas hopes is deep, meaningful, enlightening and thought provoking conversations between a lively cast of characters but in actual fact comes across as pompous ramblings about creating a truly original narrative, the history of tarot cards and the relationship between Tolstoy and Chekhov to name a few topics. There's an awful lot of this conversation which sounds suspiciously like it's come straight out of a college fiction workshop, which really begins to grate after a while. At the end of the day there's only so much of this ridiculous dialog I can take without a decent story line to back it up and pad it out. It would be easier to tolerate if something was actually going on. Because strip all that endless talking away and you're left with nothing more interesting than that story I told above about my day. And who the hell wants to hear about that?


I wish Scarlett Thomas would stop trying so hard to dazzle us with her ideas about time and space and physics. I wish she'd be more subtle about it rather than shoehorning it in there and trying to cram it down our throats until our eyes are actually watering. I do truly wish this as I think she has some wonderful, thought provoking ideas and I really enjoy her writing style and her descriptions. I just can't stand to be made to feel stupid, as if these interesting ideas need to be spelled out to me and repeated over and over as if that's the only way I'll understand. Please .... I'm not an idiot.