Saturday, 2 July 2011

Book #55 The End Of Mr Y by Scarlett Thomas

The End Of Mr Y

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.

Or the description of a feeling Ariel experiences :
On days like this I do not feel afraid of death or pain. I don't know if it's tiredness, the book, or even the curse, but today as I walk through this housing estate, there's a feeling inside me like the potential nuclear fission of every atom in my body: a chain reaction of energy that could take me to the limits of everything. As I walk along, I almost desire some kind of violence: to live, to die, just for the experience of it. I'm so hyped up that suddenly I want to fuck the world or be fucked by it. Yes, I want to be penetrated by the shrapnel of a million explosions. I want to see my own blood.
I don't know whether others will like these quotes, but personally I found them insightful. I could have sat here and listed many other quotes but I decided to stop at 3.

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.

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