on 21 February 2014
The End of Mr Y is about a girl called Ariel Manto who finds a rare book in a second hand bookstore. Then, through reading the book (a non-fiction manual disguised as a novel) she discovers some kind of alternate reality, a world in which she can transfer into peoples' minds, read their thoughts, etc. It's called the troposphere. There's more to it than that, but I don't want to give anything away; not because it's a mystery story, but because as I read this novel I enjoyed discovering out the new things as I went along: the nuances of this mystical world, the landscape of metaphors and double meanings and thought-provoking questions which are posed but sometimes remain unanswered. It's just better to not know and find out, than have me give it all away.
Anyway, it's a slow read, slower than most probably, but in a good way. I also found that the main character contrasted well against the story (or against my stereotypes): all this geeky mathematical spiritual mystical stuff was mixed in with a normal contemporary sexually aggressive foul-mouthed nerd-who-sleeps-around. And the book further proves that it's possible to write an intelligent complex story and still be completely raw and true at the same time. At one point the main character talks about Patrick's `s***k' dribbling down her leg. These moments of raw realism actually help to make the fantastical parts, the unrealistic separate realities, seem more believable, as they are built up in a real world with real twisted characters.
However, this book won't interest everyone, and at times it made me think of a well-written Dan Brown, which is to say that a few conversations about existentialism, etc., seemed merely put in there so the author could tell us some facts about stuff and maybe also air her own opinions through her characters. And during these times the dialogue seemed kind of stilted, just people talking like manuals.
In conclusion: read it if you like long books and aren't easily offended. You'll enjoy it.
(Side note: The novel is called The End Of Mr. Y. Does anyone else think, given the subject and the concepts throughout the novel, this might be a little play on: the end of MYSTERY, an in MISTER-Y? Maybe that's an obvious observation, but it just occurred to me.)
Ariel Manto, an impoverished and directionless PhD student, discovers by chance a copy of a rare and notorious novel "The End of Mr Y". Rumoured to be cursed, the only other known copy of the book resides unseen in the vaults of German bank. Ariel discovers within its pages the recipe for a concoction that the book's author claims will transport her to an alternate reality from which she can access the minds of those around her.
Now, I am pathologically incapable of spotting allegory, seeing sub-text, reading between the lines. However, Scarlett Thomas' best known work to date is clearly a statement or investigation into the nature of reality so I am possibly the worst person to really appreciate what she is trying to say. Just bear that in mind as you read on.
My failings aside, this certainly is an absorbing and intriguing read. Clearly written and easy enough to follow, as a story it makes no excessive demands on the reader's intellect and I enjoyed it.
It is not without its shortcomings. The characters are not particularly likeable (of course, no-one said that they should be). Ariel is a fairly unappealing protagonist - she is not especially egregious but neither is she the sort of person that many readers will connect to, with her rather flat personality, her tendency towards self-harm and an apparently passionless and self-destructive sex-life.
Written from Ariel's point of view, Thomas liberally salts the story with scientific and philosophical exposition, ranging over a wide hunting-ground from quantum mechanics and relativity to ontology, intercessionary prayer and homeopathy. The level at which she treats the scientific subjects is neither too deep nor too shallow for general consumption. By contrast the frequent references to Baudrillard and Derrida fail to achieve anything more than a bit of self-consciously pretentious name-dropping. I have never been able to understand what "post-modernism" actually IS (or perhaps, which seems more likely, I am simply too dense) but it seems to me that Thomas would like Mr Y to be seen as some sort of post-modernist tale of the metaphysical. However, in the end, the "philosophy" of the story is (generally) simple and conventional (to anyone who has read any sci-fi and/or cyberpunk) and its language is uncomplicated and accessible - in other words, hugely at odds with my perception of post-modernism*.
If that sounds like damning with faint praise, I can only reiterate my opening qualification that "The End of Mr Y" is, taken at face value, a great read. It does have one novel quirk in that there is a "twist" which, in defiance of all convention comes at the beginning rather than the end.
* Although there is one sequence in which Ariel exposits on the subject of existence and reality at such depth that I was forced to skim the scene and then skip it entirely. I am pleased to report that I didn't feel any the worse for this.
on 16 August 2012
My first impression of Scarlett Thomas's novel The End Of Mr Y was the eye-catching and intriguing cover. Which of course should never be used to judge the book, but it was enough to persuade me to pick it up off the shelf in the shop and find out more. Reading what the book was about though instantly had me hooked. Lost edition of a supposedly cursed book turns up, its author having been an obscure but fascinating figure from the nineteenth century who met a bad end, a gateway to strange hidden worlds through the conscious and subconscious minds? Oh, go on then, it beats the hell out of another smug tale of dinner party angst or crudely written attempts to cash in on the Dan Brown phenomenon.
The central character is much as described by other reviewers, a postgraduate philosophy student whose life has too many excesses, and whose mind is in search of more fulfilment. She finds a strange book thought to be lost forever, and undeterred by stories of a curse she becomes obsessed with the quest of the titular Mr Y to explore new worlds. The key seems to lie in unlocking parts of the conscious and unconscious mind that are normally left unused. In finding her way into a strange parallel world she suddenly finds herself in danger, as other more sinister groups are searching for the same thing...
I have to confess that I'm a sucker for this kind of thing, and will happily skate over any number of scientific plot holes if the story is enjoyable. And I did find this enjoyable. This story has been done elsewhere, in the work of Clive Barker and Philip K Dick, and in films such as Inception, Being John Malkovich and even Tron. In a lot of cases this story has been done better elsewhere, and without the slightly mannered tone, and abundance of the stock characters favoured by writers who spend more time in academia and Islington dinner parties than they do in the real world. But there's something very quirky and personal about the way Scarlett Thomas has written this book which won me over, and I did really like the virtual world into which her central character escapes. Thomas has shown some real ambition in using sci-fi and thriller conventions to explore human consciousness and philosophical ideas, and a fair bit of it works.
Like a lot of people, though, I didn't take to the ending, which felt like a cop out. And it did take me a bit of effort to get over the use of homeopathy in a fairly crucial part of the plot. I know you have to suspend some disbelief, but really. The existence of a secret world of the subconscious? Great. A giant mouse God watching over our heroine? Sure. A flaky humanities student trying to outwit rogue CIA agents? OK. But homeopathy? Come on.
Overall I enjoyed reading this offbeat take on a favourite science fiction theme of mine. If you're prepared to cut it some slack and treat it as a thought experiment, you'll have a good time.
on 3 July 2011
I want to say right from the start that I thought The End Of Mr Y was brilliant. As soon as I started reading it I felt like this was a book I was meant to read. To borrow a popular film quote : "It had me at hello". The protagonist Ariel Monto is an English Literature graduate, with a recent burgeoning interest in theoretical physics. This immediately struck a chord with me on a personal level. When we meet Ariel she is a Phd student at an unnamed London university with an interest in little-known 18th century author Thomas E Lumas. Lumas wrote among others a novel called The End Of Mr Y, after which our novel takes its title. The novel is rare and there are but few copies in existence, it is also rumoured to be cursed.
The first section of the book is really the novel at its best. I was taken with much of the writing, and enjoyed many individual quotes about physics and other things, for example :
I didn't go further and say that I want to know everything because of the high probability that if you know everything there'll be something to actually believe in.
Or this description about the weather :
Monday morning and the sky is the colour of sad weddings.
There was just a lot I liked about the opening of this book, the elusive cursed book, the academic setting and the character of Ariel herself, someone I felt I understood. I believe that detractors of this book have called it pretentious and pseudo-intellectual, but, having so recently levelled that accusation at Ali Smith's 'There But For The' I can safely say that Scarlett Thomas's 'The End Of Mr Y' bears no comparison to it. Instead, my position is that the book is incredibly intelligent and so is, clearly, its author. Where it succeeds and mightily over the former book, is that its storytelling is king. It is not a book trying to be clever, making some redundant point about society that might have been interesting ten years ago, it is actually genuinely clever. For there to be a fictional tale about a woman on a journey of discovery in a fourth dimension, a fantasy, magical realism tale; that pulls off discussions on quantum physics and philosophy, existential and otherwise, making them integral to as opposed to harming the story is a feat indeed. However, if you don't want your mind seriously taxed by difficult questions of science and existence, it would be best avoided.
The middle third is somewhat difficult bearing the similarities it did to 1980's computer games and virtual reality with shades of the 1999 film 'The Matrix'. It faltered somewhat for me in this section, though I did like the concept of "Pedesis" which is brought in at this stage.
Though I have seen criticism of the ending and expected something awful I was blown away by it. Whilst looking back near the beginning of the book after completion, I noticed a foreshadowing that I had not done on the first read. This book is ABSOLUTELY a novel which bears re-reading, not least for its philosophical and theoretical concepts which are worth further exploration. I read Paradise Lost about a year ago, and this book along with others I have read this year including Mirror, Mirror and The Vintner's Luck has clearly taken some inspiration from Milton's epic poem. I think once you've read a classic like Milton you start to see his impact everywhere. I loved the ending, loved it, and would argue down and defend it against detractors.
Responses to The End Of Mr Y are very clearly polarised and I would say that this is a book you will either fall in love with or detest, fortunately I am of the former camp. And though reader responses to Thomas's other novels 'Popco' and 'Our Tragic Universe' are equally polarised I look forward to reading them with serious enthusiasm.
For me this is a Read This: 10/10 book, but I have the objectivity to recognise that for some people this book may be the exact opposite.
on 7 July 2010
This is one of the best books I have ever read. Thomas is like a new Atwood for me, melding the ability to create a dark new world with something so intrinsically human that it never seems that far from home.
Do I like this because I am a female university lecturer and research student with more than a passing interest in philosophy, quantum physics and the paranormal? It can't be discounted. But I also love the mystery and magic in this book which lies somewhere between Harry Potter and The Illusionist, the ability of the main protagonist to keep striving through adversity by creating new ideas and possibilities, and the raw filth which appears periodically to distance this book from a fluffy teen adventure.
It is fair to say that some of the descriptions of scientific and philosophical ideas are either too long or too simplistic, something difficult to gauge for an unlimited audience. Also the story when told from what appears to be embellished personal experience feels richer than that told from other positions, for example that of a non-human (to avoid spoilers).
However, these things by no mean detract from the overall feeling in the book and it was one of the very few book endings which felt satisfying to me, and was a multi-layered, paradoxical and wonderful idea.
I have read other reviews which say that the ideas within are so fanciful that it spoils the book as it is neither fantasy nor reality- I would argue that this is exactly the point- a thought experiment takes us to the limits of experience and encourages us to question what it is to be alive. Other books which may support this edge of awareness thinking are 'The Sense of Being Stared At' by Sheldrake, 'The Holographic Universe by Talbot' and 'The Field' by McTaggart.
A fantastic find for the curious.
on 11 May 2010
This is my introduction to Scarlett Thomas and I found much of it entirely engaging. I enjoyed her style of writing and aside from the academia I found this a relatively easy read. My issues with it are entirely personal. Being a hopeless romantic, I was engaged very quickly by the potential love story of Adam and Ariel and equally, the 'dirty' quality of the novel was fascinating in a voyeuristic fashion however I couldn't help feeling slightly detached from the general narrative by the protagonist. I can't help thinking this character has been played out before. The cliche of the vegetarian, intellectual, PHD student, living on books and lentils, having mindless sexual encounters with older men and so on and so forth. It feels entirely too familiar though I can't put my finger on it as such.
I found some of the narrative slightly jarring in terms of the author's attempts to explain the basis for her character's behaviour with brief flashback memories of a broken childhood. As for the `troposphere', although it is described wonderfully, rather than gripping my attention, I found my mind wandering. I actually found myself becoming a little bored at times.
Regardless of that, it's a well written and entertaining novel and certainly the first half is fast paced and exciting. I think the last third winds down and perhaps lets it down but it hasn't put me off venturing into the realms of Scarlett Thomas's other work.
on 14 March 2012
This book started out well, with the interesting Ariel Manto discovering 'The End of Mr Y' in a second hand book shop and discovering the secrets of the troposphere. However, I feel the author became quite self-indulgent, and really started to get really bogged down in defining the world using 'language' and pondering what an existentialist would make of everything over a rationalist or Derrida etc. I found myself skipping whole paragraphs just to get to the action and the actual story. I found Ariel believable on the whole but all the other characters were pretty 2D. On the whole this book was pretty patchy and I'll probably not try any of Scarlett Thompson's other works.
on 21 May 2014
This is a book I didn't want to put down - it draws the reader in and is totally absorbing. It's part thriller, part fantasy with some interesting philosophical ideas. It was one of those books that I raced to the end of and then felt bereft! It's a book I will definitely re-read at a slower more thoughtful pace.
on 18 August 2014
This book is hard to describe. Whilst reading it on my Kindle at work, I was asked several times what I was reading, what it was about, and I found it very hard to explain. It's a very original premise and has all the fantastic writing and intelligence we have come to expect from Scarlett Thomas. It's ambitious but it doesn't disappoint. I would place it somewhere between fantasy and sci-fi within the banner of fiction. It's philosophical and yet mundane, includes such literary exercises as writing from the perspective of a male mouse, there's bits of science and religion in there... It's a real mixture. Hard to describe.The one thing I disliked about the book was the preoccupation with homeopathy - it's a personal preference/view but I find all of that to be utter rubbish. I'm okay with it being in there as an interest for one of the characters but there were times when the author/narrator was just going on and on about it and it seemed like she was trying to sell it to you as a concept, and much like religious people knocking on my door, I didn't appreciate that. But I wouldn't let that detract from what is a truly amazing book. Her writing is always good - I have several of her other books and they are so varied and so well-written.
on 27 March 2010
Its been known to my friends and family for years that if im reading a book they are not going to see me for at least two days.
I've been flirting with a few books recently yet nothing has stuck me to my bed and made me watch the sun come up for a while until I stumbled on this.
I have just finished it.
And I feel a bit sad. Not the sad of when you read a good book and are 20-30 pages from the end and all you can think of is a combination of quick! The end! What happens?! with No! The end! Is there a sequel? This is the sad feeling of - Oh, is that it?
This books starts with so many ideas then kind of fizzes out to a drab nothingness.
There is no feeling of acheivment or learning at the end of this book. Just the feeling of dissapointment.
So much goes into making this a good read that it should rise like a sponge. And it does (kind of)until you open the oven to early and it sags and flops in the middle. It will taste OK but it will never be great.
The finale is about 30 pages. The build up is around 450. With the themes this book plays with the author needed to put the same amount of effort into the ending as she did with the begining and middle. The other world seems to have just made the author and characters lazy.
I can explain differently.
Titanic. Most people have seen it (I think its terrible. But hey-ho!). Imagine sitting there for what 2 hours watching frolics on a ship. The iceberg is coming! And when within two minutes Iceberg-Smash-Ship-Crash-People-Screaming-Lifeboats-Death.. The end.
That is 'The end of mr Y'