Book Review: <i>The End of Mr. Y</i>
Scarlett Thomas is one of my new favourite people (check out her website, aside from being a sharp author, she's really damn interesting). Her book The End of Mr. Y is defiantly non-genre (although it takes cues from mystery and sci-fi), and uses fiction to explore ideas - philosophy, science, the nature of reality - in a highly entertaining, thought -provoking, I-want-everyone-to-read-it-so-we-can-talk-about-it way.
The End of Mr. Y is about Ariel Manto, our heroine, who's doing a phD on mysterious author Thomas Lumas, whose book, The End of Mr. Y, seems to kill those who read it (including Lumas himself), under the tutelage of the only other person in the world remotely interested in Lumas, Saul Burlem.
The action begins shortly after Burlem disappears. Ariel stumbles across the (extremely rare) book at a local used book shop, which of course she reads, and suddenly it's down the rabbit hole.
Ariel doesn't lead a glamourous life. Like any long-time student, she's living in a mouse-infested apartment on whatever's cheap, sharing the occasional dinner with the equally poor guy upstairs, shagging a married prof she doesn't quite like and dealing with some psychological baggage. She's not happy or unhappy, just living a complicated life.
But Lumas' book changes everything. It holds a secret formula which allows the drinker to enter a world called the Troposphere, a dreamworld of sorts that transcends time and space via thought - it is essentially an imagining of the universal subconscious. (It gives new meaning to the phrase 'lost in though').
Once Ariel's dipped into this strange new world, she can't get enough of it - but the addictive experience isn't the only danger. Turns out, she's not the only one who knows about the Troposphere - soon, scary Americans in suits are on her tail, after the book and the secret it holds.
Helping Ariel elude her pursuers and, as chance would have it, save the world, are a depressive ex-Jesuit priest and small-time deity Apollo Smintheus - one-time Greek god, currently keeping an eye on mice.
It's a mind-altering experience; intelligent, fast-paced, sharp and fearless. I was downright excited while reading it because it's so unusual, and so well-executed. In the best tradition of Alice Through the Looking Glass, and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardobe - Thomas pushes gritty realities into a fantastical world of ideas.
My only (small) disappointment is the ending, in the same way that the end of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series disappointed me - they take these daring leaps, these philosophical thought experiments tied up in high-stakes, save the universe kind of plots, then it all kind of thins to a watered down story of genesis.
But then, where else can you really end up, when you're thinking about reality and what it means to be human? I just can't wait to read what ever Thomas cooks up next.
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