Our Tragic Universe, Scarlett Thomas, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010, 372 pp
Oh my god, I loved this book! I have a first edition hardcover with that cool black/gray, white, and gold cover and the black-edged pages. I bought it at City Lights when I was on my way home from hiking in the Redwoods and then left it sitting on my shelves for two years. After slogging through In the Garden of Beasts, I just wanted to read something I wanted to read, so I grabbed Our Tragic Universe, flopped onto my bed and practically stayed there until I had read to the end.
The whole story is so 21st century British, so off-the-beaten-track of even that, so literary in a non-literary way. Meg Carpenter (broke, writing book reviews and genre fiction to pay the rent while she works on her novel everyday but deletes everything she wrote the next day) is such a sympathetic character. She is like Anne Lamott without the Christianity and with an even more dry sense of humor.
Plot is not the essence of this novel. It moves slowly. You want Meg to maybe have a little more grit or something but then she wouldn't be Meg. It's a novel about a novelist by a novelist and about being a novelist in an insane, uncaring world. It's about friendships and love and relationships but has an exactly zero mush factor.
I haven't looked up any other reviews before writing my thoughts but I would say Our Tragic Universe might not please the wide majority of readers. It pleased me a great deal. It made me want to keep reading books when I was despairing about contemporary novels. It made me want to work on my own writing.
Best of all, by sort of blandly being true to herself, all good things come to Meg in the end. I did not expect a happy ending. (This is not a spoiler.) I wanted Meg to be happy but I would have understood had Scarlett Thomas decided to go another way. Possibly this is a book about faith--in yourself, in our tragic universe. If you are a writer, you owe it to yourself to read it.
(Our Tragic Universe is available in various formats by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)