The End of Mr Y Paperback – 5 Jul 2007
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'A masterpiece . . . A brilliant, engaging story that in the end
makes you rethink the nature of existence and the true structure of the
world.' -- Douglas Coupland
'Deserves all the praise it has already received and much more . .
. Destined to become a cult book.' -- Sunday Telegraph
'Enjoyable bunkum, as brainy as it is fantastical...Thomas has produced a contemporary fantasy novel worth reading.' -- Sunday Herald
'Ingenious and original . . . A cracking good yarn fizzing with
intelligence.' -- Philip Pullman
'This splendid piece of Victorian gothic has a delightful whiff of
decaying books, and a strong pinch of sulphur. Hugely enjoyable.' -- The Times
'Thomas pulls off this intellectual rollercoaster of a novel with dry humour and panache' -- Sunday Times
When Ariel Manto uncovers a copy of "The End of Mr Y" in a second-hand bookshop, she can't believe her eyes. She's read about its author before, the outlandish Victorian scientist Thomas Lumas, and this is his most notorious, and rarest, book. It is also believed to hold a curse. Anyone who's ever read it, including Lumas, has disappeared without trace.With "Mr Y" under her arm, Ariel is thrust into an adventure of faith, physics, love, death, and everything in between.Part gothic mystery, part time-travelling love story, "The End of Mr Y" lies somewhere between "Shadow of the Wind" and "Dr Who". Scarlett Thomas sends us on a wild and irresistible quest into our deepest selves and our biggest questions.See all Product description
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The basic idea is that a young PhD student, Ariel Manto, finds a copy of a rare work by the subject of her thesis, Thomas Lumas. Not much is known of the book; only one copy is known to exist, stored in a bank vault in Germany, and there is a rumour that anyone who reads the book will die. Her supervisor has suggested she ignore the text in her doctorate, but the supervisor disappeared about a year ago… The book itself – a 19th century work called The End of Mr Y – finds the eponymous Mr Y visiting a circus sideshow and being intrigued by a clairvoyant.
This all sounds like the plot of a very bad self-published work, just waiting for the zombies to appear. Fortunately they don’t, and Thomas is a skilful enough writer to bring this potential implausibility into something coherent. But instead of zombies, we have a chase across international borders by some very dodgy American spooks, refuge being sought in monasteries and mind-reading.
At times the text feels over-long and some of the pseudo-science does get a bit hard to follow at times. But this is balanced by a genuinely intriguing plot whose direction is not always as obvious as it seems. There are multiple timelines and backstories all shepherded well and there are moments of sheer inventive brilliance. By the end, it all gets very surreal in a way that some people are not going to like, but I think it worked.
This is a novel that is a lot of fun. It’s ideal holiday reading; enough to think about and the pages keep turning without the need to take notes.
But of course you can’t judge a book just by it’s cover (or its velvety black pages!) The story needs to be good too. The End of Mr Y shares the story of Ariel Manto, a PhD student obsessed by the 19th century writer Thomas Lumas. He was the writer of the original ‘The End of Mr. Y’, a book that is now incredibly rare and rumoured to be cursed – everyone who has read it has died soon afterwards.
When Manto finds a second hand copy she is over the moon. It’s not that she’s unaware of the rumours, in fact that danger adds a certain spice to it for her. She’s the kind of woman who has affairs with married men. She is unconcerned with the future, now is everything to her. By the way, this is probably better reserved for over 16 as her affairs are aren’t just left to the readers imagination!
Lumas’ book is all about the “Troposphere” – a place where all consciousness is connected and you can enter other people’s minds and read their thoughts. It includes the recipe for a draft that Mr Y uses to enter the Troposphere. Of course Manto can’t resist recreating the recipe and on drinking it she enters the Troposphere herself.
Thankfully telling you too much about the plot is a naughty thing for a reviewer to do, after all you wouldn’t thank me for spoiling it all! And today I am exceedingly grateful for that! Describing the rest of this story would be very hard, although I really loved it I have to admit I wasn’t really sure what it all meant when I finished it the first time! I’ve read it twice more since then and I think I finally understand it now (just don’t test me on it!)
It’s not a book I’d recommend to everyone, it is rather long and if I’m completely honest it is probably a little too esoteric for some peoples taste. But I do recommend it for those that like a bit of challenge and specifically for people that don’t mind having their world view or spiritual assumptions questioned.
The story itself is brilliant, it’s intriguing and packed full of danger and the promise of secrets being revealed. The authors characterisations are spot on. None of her characters are off the peg, they are all complex and believable, if not always completely loveable.
I returned the book to the library, but I bought my own copy and it is one of the books I will never part with.
NB This review first appeared on The BookEaters Blog - http://www.thebookeaters.co.uk/