Friday, 5 June 2009

The End of Mr Y by Scarlett Thomas

The End of Mr Y is best described as an intelligent adventure story. And it's described in the blurb as a love story, which I was slightly concerned about, as I don't usually enjoy reading about romance, but this was not really romance, it was more about connections. In fact connections between people is one of the major themes of this novel.

The story starts with the collapse and evacuation of the college building that Ariel Manto is a PHD student in. On her way home she calls into a secondhand bookshop and discovers a copy of a very rare book, The End of Mr Y, which supposedly has a curse on it that everybody who reads it will die. Well she buys the book, takes it home and obviously reads it. Incidentally, I did spend some time wondering whether I would read it, and I'm still undecided on this. I think curiosity would get the better of me! The story is of a man who is persuaded to take a strange potion at a travelling fair and disappears into a world of other peoples minds, named the Troposphere. Discovering the last page is missing, she believes she will never get to read the complete text. Until that is, it drops out of one of her professor's books. This professor was studying Lumas, the man who wrote the book, until he disappeared, and has not been seen her heard from since.

So the last page contains the recipe for the potion itself, which Ariel determines to create and try for herself. Again this got me wondering whether I would do this, and I think this is where I draw the line. I just don't think I'd have the guts to do this. But Ariel does, and ends up in the Troposphere, in the mind of a mouse! She spends the rest of the story in and out of the troposphere, first just to see, and then in an attempt to save her life, as some nasty American men want the recipe from her, and will stop at nothing to get it both in the real world, and in the troposphere.

That's the adventure part covered I think. The intelligent part is harder to write about, but no less crucial to the story. Obviously the book is set on a university campus, so Scarlett Thomas uses her characters to expound some very complex philosophical and scientific ideas. We have long conversations about quantum physics, the nature of faith, creation, the big bang and whether things actually exist independently, or only once they have been observed. And lots of other things besides. I can't pretend to understand all this, especially the highly scientific parts, but it does all make sense in the nature of the story at least. We also have Adam, a lapsed priest thrown in for good measure, to offer his opinion on all of this. The crux though has to be what the troposphere actually is and the nature of consciousness itself. At least in this story, this is all interconnected with the quantum physics of creation and existence. Ideas of time and space are discussed as in the troposphere time and place are inextricably linked, and the troposphere is linked to what we would call the real world. I did say that this was a story about connections.

I really enjoyed this, and it didn't really matter that I only had a flimsy grasp of the science because Scarlett Thomas makes the bits that are vital to the story clear enough. The idea of human consciousness all being interconnected is an interesting one, and to put it all into such a gripping adventure tale is a brilliant idea. The only negative issue for me would be that I found the ending slightly weak, although it was possibly the only way it could have ended. And I didn't feel any need for the religious imagery, that spoiled it for me just slightly. But not enough to not recommend this book. It was fantastic.


Jackie (Farm Lane Books) said...

I loved this book too! I have a degree in chemistry and some of the scientific bits went over my heaad too, so I wouldn't worry about it!

I've since bought a few more of her books, and hope to read one in the next month.

I really hope it is as good as this one.

Molly said...

Thanks for the warning about the scientific aspects of the novel (which I would not even begin to understand). I have not heard of this one, but I am very intrigued by your review. Thank you!