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Our Tragic Universe Hardcover – September 1, 2010


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Our Tragic Universe + PopCo + The End of Mr. Y
Price for all three: $37.12

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  • PopCo $5.98
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (September 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151013918
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151013913
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.5 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,171,531 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, September 2010: Scarlett Thomas is a nimble writer, joyfully unseating and upholding cozy fiction conventions in Our Tragic Universe as she builds a story around Meg Carpenter, a writer who--as a genre fiction ghostwriter, book reviewer, and writing coach--has immersed herself in every nook and cranny of her craft to keep herself afloat... and to stay at arm's length from the "real" novel she just can't get her head around. The thoughts that consume her in the meantime range widely, touching down on storytelling, magic, coincidence, love, and what it might be like to live forever. (Her wryly observed theory is that it "would be like marrying yourself, with no possibility of a divorce.") In the hands of a less talented writer (and thinker), such a litany could easily devolve into a meandering mess. Not so here: Meg's searching soul is remarkably controlled, making her a protagonist you trust and want to follow, even when--in fact, especially when--you're not entirely sure where she's going. It's always clear that Meg's journey isn't aimless, and you'll be delighted to find--as she does--that the best stories "make someone surprised to see the picture, and even more surprised when they realize they had all the pieces all along." --Anne Bartholomew

From Publishers Weekly

Thomas's delightfully whimsical novel riffs on the premise that ordinary lives stubbornly resist the tidy order that a fiction narrative might impose on them. Meg Carpenter, a young writer living hand-to-mouth in Devon, pens book reviews, science fiction novels, and pseudonymous YA thrillers while the serious literary novel she dabbles at keeps ballooning and shrinking back to the same 43 words. Though Meg reviews New Age titles that lay out organized plans for one's life (and afterlife), her own life is an unruly mess, encompassing a slacker boyfriend and his amusingly dysfunctional family, friends having extramarital affairs, and associates who can't balance their vocations and avocations. Enough propitious coincidences occur to suggest her life might also admit the occasional intrusion of the magical. Thomas (Popco) dexterously mixes the serious with the humorous and provides a cast of characters who come across as credible owing to their recognizable foibles and fallibility.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

More About the Author

Scarlett Thomas was born in London in 1972. Her other novels include Bright Young Things, Going Out, PopCo and The End of Mr.Y, which was longlisted for the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction 2007. She teaches creative writing at the University of Kent.

Customer Reviews

Scarlett Thomas is a fabulous author and I can't wait to read more of her work.
G. Messersmith
For instance, think about this: the protagonist of the story, Meg, sounds an AWFUL lot like the book's author, Scarlett Thomas.
Bob Nolin
The entire book seemed like an exposition: even though a few things happened, I kept waiting for the action to begin.
missannethrope

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

68 of 78 people found the following review helpful By Bob Nolin on August 8, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
With a tongue-in-cheek title such as "Our Tragic Universe," you know you're in for something off the beaten path. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, which is a first-person episodic, mainstream novel. Or is it? Perhaps there's more going on here than meets the eye. For instance, think about this: the protagonist of the story, Meg, sounds an AWFUL lot like the book's author, Scarlett Thomas. They're both writers, teachers, British, mid-thirties, have academic chums...and the book is written in first person. So you keep thinking, hmm, is she talking about herself here? Is this autobiographical? And then there's the conversations throughout about philosophies of writing, about books, about writing a "storyless story" (which makes you think, Hey! This book itself seems to qualify for that. What's going on here?) Normally, I don't enjoy metafictions. But what makes this different from, say, If on a Winter's Night a Traveler (Everyman's Library (Cloth)), is that you don't feel the author is playing headgames at your expense. She seems to be inviting you to play along with her (perhaps a hint is that early on, Meg tells how she loves solving crossword puzzles--the British kind, of course). Suddenly you realize that you are reading--and enjoying--a non-standard, "storyless" novel. Well, it's episodic. So is Deep in the Shade of Paradise: A Novel, which I highly recommend, but wouldn't categorize as breaking the rules, really. It's just a story about a period in these people's lives, told by one of the people, named Meg.Read more ›
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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Cathe Fein Olson VINE VOICE on August 21, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This was a quirky novel about a woman in a bad relationship writing genre novels when she really wants to write a literary masterpiece. There's a bit of a soap opera with who likes who and who's cheating on who going on with her and her friends, which is kind of fun. I found this novel well-written but didn't really like the way it kept drifting off into philosophical discussions. I'd end up zoning out and then would get back into the book when the actual story continued. I guess I prefer books that keep to story . . . but I liked the writing and characters well enough that I finished the book and found it enjoyable. I think those into philosophy will probably enjoy this book.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Scarlett Brontë on September 29, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
After reading The End of Mr. Y, I thought this was going to have some science fiction elements and be very plot driven, but it turned out to be something completely different. Odd circumstances were set up, but the story never went where I thought it would.

I was going to describe Our Tragic Universe as a character driven novel, but that doesn't seem right, either. This is something completely different.

The characters in this novel discuss storycrafting quite a bit, and one thing that comes up often is the idea of the storyless story. This sounds like an oxymoron, but it's the best way to describe Our Tragic Universe.

That doesn't mean that nothing happens, but it doesn't follow a regular plot outline. Things do happen in the lives of the characters, but not in the formulaic way that we are accustomed to. The main character doesn't have anything that drives her to act. It's more like things happen and she adapts. When I describe it that way, it sounds really boring, but I wasn't bored. I enjoyed the writing and my curiosity about what was going to happen kept me reading.

I've never read a story like this before. It's worth reading just for its uniqueness. I think this is a book that will be discussed in writing classes, I'm just not sure if it will be received as an example of what to do, or what not to do. Either way, I liked it and feel as though I should read it again now that I know what to expect from this peculiar novel.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Wilfrid K. F. Wong on September 26, 2010
Format: Hardcover
If I could have one opportunity to meet with the author Scarlett Thomas, I would like to ask her why with all these wonderful ingredients and potentials in "Our Tragic Universe", she has chosen to disintegrate them into what appears to me as a storyless story (by her definition and by my observation). One that makes me feel tragic to even finish reading the book. If I could meet with Douglas Coupland who wrote that wonderful piece of praise at the back of the book, I would like to ask him specifically how "Our Tragic Universe" manages to surprise him in a terrific way, why he finds it addictive and thinks that the author is a genius. If I could meet with the one who wrote the synopses of the book, I would like to ask why he or she thinks that "Our Tragic Universe" is a book about how relationships are created and destroyed, and how a story might just save our lives. I have devoured the book slowly, from page one to page 425, and I have found none of the above.

Scarlett Thomas is not new to me. I have read some of her previous works before. I had this hope that "Our Tragic Universe" would live it up to my expectation. This book is curiously divided into two parts. In part one, the main character Meg - a book reviewer, a ghost writer, an aspired writer, a lady in her late thirties, a character that at one point I thought Scarlett is Meg - has a rather mundane life that is getting slightly worse. In part two, Meg has a relatively more hopeful life that is getting slightly better. If I may deduce what saves her life (as promised by the synopses), it is money. Or rather the time freed up by not needing to think about making ends meet can be used to do something more interesting.
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