Scarlett Thomas’ latest novel delves into the nature of narrative, says Katherine Wootton
When a novelist creates a character who is also a writer, it is natural to assume a link between the struggles of the character and the author, and that when the character talks about different ways of writing and the purpose of stories, the author is considering, while writing, why they are writing, and how, and if it is the best way in which to do so.
Scarlett Thomas was first published as a mystery author, though perhaps a deliberately satiric and genre-bending one, with the three books in the Lily Pascale series. Her later books, PopCo, The End of Mr. Y and now Our Tragic Universe, are all at least partly driven by the mystery form – her intellectual and self-aware protagonists are drawn to puzzles and problem solving, and this curiosity in turn drives the plot. In Our Tragic Universe, part of the puzzle Thomas and her heroine Meg try to solve is how to write outside of genre and the formulaic Aristotelian narrative structure. Meg has a novel that she has been trying to write for ages, and keeps deleting and rewriting, while churning out teen genre novels under a pseudonym, the occasional science fiction title under her own name, and writing reviews to stay solvent.