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the complete review - fiction
The End of Mr. Y
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A- : enjoyable fantasy and story
See our review for fuller assessment.
||Ursula K. Le Guin
|Independent on Sunday
|Scotland on Sunday
Almost all like it a lot
From the Reviews:
- "Mixing Derrida and physics, but more Matrix than dreary philosophy lesson, Scarlett Thomas explores the very nature of being, knowledge and love by way of a cracking plot. (...) The complicated plot and ideas that result only very occasionally lose coherency; Thomas is generally in great command of her material." - Lorien Kaye, The Age
- "Nach vielen Stunden in der Troposphäre sitzen wir schließlich wieder in der Realität, die aber so grau nun auch wieder nicht ist, dass man nicht ein- bis zweihundert Seiten dieses ansonsten so rasanten wie eleganten Denkromans hätte einsparen können." - Oliver Jungen, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
- "Though her affective vocabulary is repetitive and her sex life is only too much like it, Ariel is immensely bright, and very much on the cutting edge; she understands Derrida and différance, reads Heidegger and catches on at once to all the philosophy, physics, and metaphysics hurled about her head by the other characters. A lot of talk, brilliant cerebro-thriller talk, whisks us through various theories which may or may not describe and explain the effect of a potion whose recipe is revealed in the mysterious book. (…) Speculative explanations of the existence and nature of this region bring us into the science fiction mode; and the mixture of intellectual discussion with a thriller plot should please fans of Umberto Eco. Unfortunately, to my mind, the more times Ariel swallows her holy water and enters the Troposphere and the more deadly become the perils there, the more the place feels like a computer game." - Ursula K. Le Guin, The Guardian
- "If this were just a meditation, it would lose us at an early stage; if it were just another story of someone who wanders into a book of magic and never gets out again, it would be a tale too often told for prolonged attention. As things are, The End of Mr Y is an elegant construction which reminds us that a magician's book is a "grimoire" and that the organising principle of the world of thought is grammar; and that glamour, even the seedy glamour of Ariel's world, is utter enchantment." - Roz Kaveney, The Independent
- "Her latest, The End of Mr. Y, could prove to be her masterpiece. I don't know any other book that has made me, or anyone, simultaneously ponder the mating logistics of rodents, turn-of-the-century homeopathy and the consequences of time travel. (I)t is in her exploration of relativity and reality that Thomas is really daring. She neatly marries these difficult themes into an engaging story. (…) It's a funny, thought-provoking setup and makes for a phantasmagorical novel Lumas himself would be proud of." - Christian House, Independent on Sunday
- "Perhaps the most pleasing thing about this book is that just when you think it's settling in to be one kind of novel, it saunters off in another direction entirely. (…) Yet unlike other intellectually driven fiction -- that, say, of Umberto Eco -- which can bog down in its own cerebral excesses, The End of Mr. Y never loses touch with the fact that it's a novel. There are little, 100-percent-literary sugar plums to be found in its pages" - Laura Miller, Salon
- "Yet despite these structural issues, the novel's energy and charm should give it cult status. It's a hugely likeable book, written by a questing, endearing bright spark." - Andrea Mullaney, Scotland on Sunday
- "Thomas uses a breakneck thriller of a plot that includes collapsing buildings, renegade CIA agents and debauched sex to jazz up what is essentially a novel of ideas. (...) Thomas writes with marvellous panache, although I wish she indulged less in her earnest calls for homeopathy and animal rights. Amid all the novel's engaging questions about the nature of reality, it's hard to get worked up about a subplot that has Ariel time-travelling to save lab mice. Still, she spins Derrida and subatomic theory into a wholly enchanting alternate universe that should appeal to a wide popular audience, and that's something no deconstructionist or physicist has managed to do." - Georgina Cowles, The Scotsman
- "Thomas can do sheer magic as far as the conjuration of a compelling tale goes. But, as so often, exposition and development prove more interesting than resolution. And she requires us to take homeopathy seriously." - Hugo Barnacle, The Sunday Times
- "Scarlett Thomas writes fluently. The language is uncluttered, and when her characters get excited, so does her prose. Incidental observation is sardonic, but in a way that seems fresh. Metaphors come out sharp and clear. What is conveyed in the end is something of the excitement of consciousness itself, even if we feel side-tracked by a beginner's guide to Heidegger or Einstein. I'm not being snooty: there's something refreshing about Thomas's sense that, when it comes to assimilating ideas, we have to start at the beginning." - Alan Marshall, The Telegraph
- "The End of Mr Y deserves all the praise it has already received and much more; it's destined to become a cult book that provides readers with just as exciting an escape as Thomas's imaginary discourse." - Matt Thorne, The Telegraph
- "This splendid piece of Victorian Gothic has a delightful whiff of decaying books, and a strong pinch of sulphur. Hugely enjoyable." - Kate Saunders, The Times
- "The End of Mr Y is a scintillating novel. The energy of the prose, the way everyday situations segue into episodes in the un-bounded, parallel world, and the gleeful open-endedness of its debates may remind readers of John Fowles's The Magus. (…) Perhaps Thomas crams too much in; the love interest, Adam the theologian, seems forced and superfluous. But, in a literary scene dominated by historical fiction and fictionalized journalese, The End of Mr Y is original and exciting. (…) It is not easy being an experimentalist these days, but, like an act at the goose fair, Scarlett Thomas wins our attention with a beguiling combination of promise, sales patter, seduction and subterfuge." - Chris Moss, Times Literary Supplement
Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers.
Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.
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The complete review's Review:
The End of Mr. Y doesn't seem to waste any time getting to the action: the book begins on a university campus with one of the buildings collapsing as the ground beneath it gives way.
Doctoral student Ariel Manto is on campus when it happens, but she's in for something even more earth-shattering when she stops in a secondhand bookshop on the way home.
She asks whether they might have some books by an author she's interested in, Thomas E. Lumas, and she can't believe what the salesgirl tells her:
It is impossible to believe that she actually has a copy up there.
I would probably give away everything I own to obtain a copy of The End of Mr. Y, Lumas's last and most mysterious work.
I don't know what she's got it confused with, but it's just absurd to think that she has it.
No one has that book.
There is one known copy in a German bank vault, but no library has it listed.
But the shop really does have a copy, and though Ariel doesn't have to give away everything she owns to get it she does have to pay her last fifty pounds.
A small price to pay, she thinks.
Of course, there is that one tiny issue with the book: some people think it's cursed, "that if you read it you die."
It was her interest in Lumas that led Ariel to Professor Burlem, who got her to pick up her studies again, doing her Ph.D. under him.
He, too, was interested in Lumas -- but he's now mysteriously disappeared.
One of the consequences of the building-collapse is that Ariel now has to share the big office she's had all to herself with two other academics -- and that Burlem's things have to be put in storage.
Ariel has a variety of things to deal with: her freezing apartment, her lack of funds, her thesis (on thought experiments), the complications on campus due to the building-collapse, as well as some darker sexual proclivities she can't help but indulge in.
But the book is her main interest, of course, and it doesn't disappoint.
It involves a Mr.Y finding a way into a "world-of-minds" -- a sort of new dimension, where it is possible to move through the minds of others, and essentially read their thoughts and memories.
He dubs it the Troposphere.
Unfortunately, Ariel finds that near the end of her copy of the book a page is missing -- one with what she's sure is a crucial scene.
Indeed, the page contains the recipe for getting into the Troposphere .....
Needless to say, Ariel eventually finds her way into the Troposphere.
There are, however, dangers not only within it but also outside: she's not the only one who has figured out the significance of Lumas' book, and because she has a copy -- and the knowledge of what's in it --
others are desperately after her.
With it's own rules (the Troposphere functions very differently from familiar reality) and dangers (you can't die in the Troposphere, but there's that body you leave behind in the real world ...), the Troposphere is a fascinating complicated invention.
Thomas uses it for her own purposes, as a thought-experiment on consciousness and being, quantum physics and reality, belief and language, and much else -- all ideas she also has carefully spun out in the conversations the characters have along the way.
As such, The End of Mr. Y is both a philosophical-thriller as well as a more straightforward thriller -- and, yes, that does make for double the fun.
Ariel -- a poor student, living in an unheatable apartment -- sees the obvious appeal of an alternate world:
Real life is physical.
Give me books instead: Give me the invisibility of the contents of books, the thoughts, the ideas, the images.
Let me become part of a book; I'd give anything for that.
What the Troposphere actually offers is a bit different -- and more -- than that.
And, for example, she's led to consider:
So I wanted knowledge, and I got it.
But did I ever want this kind of knowledge ?
The End of Mr. Y is a big novel of ideas, and it goes after the very biggest ideas, too.
God, reality, and everything.
Much of the plot -- beyond the Troposphere-concept itself -- is far-fetched, and quite a bit of the plot and ideas hackneyed, but Thomas has a sure enough hand that one barely notices.
The novel is thriller-exciting, and the idea-talk presented well enough that it doesn't bog the narrative down too much.
There are a lot of ambitions here, and not everything works, but on the whole it's a compelling read -- and a whole lot of fun.
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The End of Mr. Y:
Other books by Scarlett Thomas under review:
Other books of interest under review:
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About the Author:
English author Scarlett Thomas was born in 1972.
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© 2007-2022 the complete review
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