OUR TRAGIC UNIVERSE by Scarlett Thomas


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Freewheeling intellectual journey with no destination.

A provocative book called The Science of Living Forever puts reviewer Meg in a reflective frame of mind. As she orders a batch of scientific/philosophical books to pore over, she finds herself questioning her assumptions about the universe and examining her relationship with prickly live-in Christopher. Meg's bread-and-butter gig is the Zeb Ross adventure series; she even holds retreats teaching other ghostwriters how to write for Zeb. But constantly in the back of her mind is the literary novel she spends a lot of energy avoiding and/or making notes for. On holiday in Scotland, woes over this unrealized opus lead to a lively discussion on the nature of the novel; must it have a story and a pattern, or can it depict what happened and offer "Zen" stories, designed to wean the reader from the restrictive expectation of cause and effect? Does it matter? Thomas toys with this idea. The narrative is built around small developments in Meg's life but studded with philosophical and literary discussions and riffs based on the ideas of writers/thinkers of the past (Nietzsche, Chekhov) and present (not household names, but she helpfully includes several titles in the acknowledgments). The more anxious Meg becomes over the novel, the more she becomes absorbed in her knitting and the lives of her friends. Libby has pushed her car into the water to cover up an affair and Meg's ex Drew is co-starring in a new Anna Karenina film. There's also the little matter of Meg kissing another man, the restless and much older Rowan. An unexpected TV deal brings a financial windfall that should change Meg's life significantly but doesn't—at least not right away. And when Christopher suffers an injury, he becomes impossible to live with. Meg leaves him, but not dramatically, simply sneaking away when he's not at home.

For the omnivorous reader who, like Meg, can't get enough of the insights and passions and theories and inner lives of others, Thomas's fifth novel (The End of Mr. Y, 2006, etc.) should be an addictive delight.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-15-101391-3
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2010


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