My attention was on high alert when I began Our Tragic Universe
, because this is a book about a writer, leading me to expect a fair amount of self-consciousness about the form of the novel itself. I began to get a glimpse of what Scarlett Thomas is up to on page 12, when Libby finds herself in a jam, about to be caught having an affair, and she turns to Meg, the novelist, and asks, "What's the formula
here?" She means, what's the predetermined structure to this series of events, what genre does this belong to? Good question, and one the novel implicitly poses about itself. Meg solves her friend's dilemma by suggesting she push her car into the river, signaling that even narrative convention in this book can contain a fair dose of surprise.
This is a talky, charming book, like a dinner party of smart, curious, but not wildly successful artists, a novelized...
Beyond the Book
For inspiration to write a novel about a novelist trying to write a novel, Scarlett Thomas didn't have to look very farher own life was the template. Thomas was born in London in 1972. She wrote her first novel at age six and her second one in her early twenties, but literary fame eluded her. She, like her character Meg, turned into a workaday writer, producing three mystery novels: Dead Clever, In Your Face,
(all three links go to the full text at Google), featuring the sassy sleuth, Lily Pascale, an English professor who just happens to specialize in horror and crime fiction as well as creative writing.