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I'm not quite sure what to make of Our Tragic Universe other than that I liked it. It was a bit like a reality show (an actual reality show, not one of those fake ones where everything is scripted) in that the characters and events were incredibly realistic and believable, to the point where you felt as though you were watching real people living their real lives.

This is something several of the characters talk about in the story: the idea of writing "fictionless fiction" or a story so real that it doesn't seem like a story but like real people. The book fits that category, apart from the odd coincidences -- for example, they apparently live in an incestuously tiny universe in which everyone is either related to, sleeping with, or broken up with everyone else. "Meet Bob. Bob used to date Mary, and is Fred's brother. Fred used to date Susan, who is Mary's co-worker and the sister of Al, Bob's boss." That sort of thing. I suppose in real life that's probably not far off, though: Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon demonstrates we're all much more closely connected than we think, and even without that I'm willing to bet that most people have a relatively small social circle, and meet new friends through their existing friends.

Lending additional verisimilitude to the events of the book is the fact that not everything is explained, tidily wrapped up. There are loose ends (what the heck was the Beast on the Moor?!), unresolved emotions, all is left open-ended -- much like real life, it's messy, not neat. And this too is discussed in the book: the idea of a storyless story, in which there are no pat answers.

At least two of the characters are writers, including the main character who is working on a novel, This is supposed to be a no-no in the world of writing, a lazy author's way out. "I have no ideas...I have no ideas...Aha! I will write a novel about how hard it is to write a novel!" In this case, the main character's ambitions to write were peripheral, not the central core of the story but rather a useful vehicle for creating situations where the characters could have philosophical discussions about what literature is, what story is, what kind of meaning we look for in a story. It certainly was not centered on the mechanics of writing, cranking out stories. So it didn't feel like a cop-out at ll.

Despite the loose ends and questions, I felt quite satisfied by the end. Other things it reminded me of: My Dinner With Andre and beer-fuelled late-night college bull sessions :)



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