Scarlett Thomas: Background information when reading Our Tragic Universe

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Our Tragic Universe

by Scarlett Thomas

Our Tragic Universe by Scarlett Thomas
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2010, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2011, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Amy Reading

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About this Book

Beyond the Book:
Scarlett Thomas

Print Review

Scarlett ThomasFor inspiration to write a novel about a novelist trying to write a novel, Scarlett Thomas didn't have to look very far—her 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, and Seaside (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.

The success of Thomas's genre fiction allowed her to turn to more literary fare, and next she produced what she calls her "postmodern trilogy" (Bright Young Things, Going Out, PopCo) a group of unlinked books that "explore what it means to be trapped in a culture where your identity is defined by pop culture." Next came The End of Mr. Y, which was sold in 22 countries and brought her a measure of literary success. In it, Thomas created a metafictional parallel to "The Matrix," which she names the Troposhere, where her protagonist can secretly enter the consciousness of other beings, only to find that her experience of the real world crumbles beneath her.

When Thomas began to write Our Tragic Universe, she found it harder than her previous books, with false starts and many deletions. That experience itself became the backbone of the novel. She has said of the book, "I wanted to write a novel while at the same time unraveling it, so that the result would be simultaneously broken and whole."

Thomas's work has been translated into more than 20 languages, and she has been longlisted for the Orange Prize, and shortlisted for the South African Boeke Prize. In 2001 she was included in the Independent on Sunday's list of the UK's 20 best young writers, and in 2002 she won an Elle Style Award for the novel Going Out. She has written short fiction and articles for various anthologies and publications, including Nature Magazine, the Guardian and the Independent on Sunday. She has also had stories broadcast on BBC Radio 4. She currently lives in Kent, UK, where she teaches creative writing. In her spare time she is studying for an MSc in Ethnobotany. She is currently working on her ninth novel, The Seed Collectors.

This article was originally published in October 2010, and has been updated for the May 2011 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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