The End of Mr. Y is my second read by Scarlett Thomas, after PopCo. This one seems to be even more popular and has been well-received, but after reading two of Thomas’ works, I get the feeling that her endings are not for me. Obviously I won’t get into that here, don’t want to spoil you, but if you’ve read them, let me know your thoughts on that! The End of Mr. Y really served as a reminder that deconstructionism is not yet a thing of the past, are we really ever going to get past that stage? Not that it’s all bad of course, but how about giving the next stage in theory a chance!?
First Ariel Manto’s PhD advisor disappears, then she finds one of only a few copies of The End of Mr. Y in a second-hand shop. And it just so happens that the author and his other works are the topic of her thesis. In this cursed book (apparently everyone who read it died), she finds a homeopathic recipe which allows her to enter the Troposphere, a place that seems to consist of consciousness (human and animal). Ariel, perhaps understandably what with her self-destructive tendencies, becomes more and more obsessed with the Troposphere and escaping reality. But this is more dangerous than she anticipates, and suddenly two men in black are after her and the recipe, even following her in both the Troposphere and reality. It seems like her advisor is the only one might be able to help.
The End of Mr. Y, like PopCo, is mainly a novel of ideas. Sure, the plot moves fast enough, but Thomas throws in wild mix of topics ranging from Derrida to quantum physics. This is the part I loved best, Thomas has the ability to explore complex ideas but still keep the action going. If you’re not much into any of the topics raised in this novel (though it’s hard to believe, there are so many), you’ll still be able to follow the plot. If you are excited someone explains Derrida to you, and I think doesn’t get paid more than other successful authors, you’ll probably note down every theory and concept she mentions, spend some time with google and Wikipedia, and then casually throw in Schrödinger’s Cat and the many-worlds interpretation in conversations (for as long as you can remember them).
I really enjoyed the first half of this novel, but then the second part was more or less disappointing. Ariel looses herself in the Troposphere, a weird God story, and a painfully cheesy love story. Most of it takes place in the Troposphere, and at the risk of her body, Ariel explores consciousness and being, and is really quite obsessed with it. Jumping into other people’s minds, or even animals’ is quite fascinating of course. But this mind space reminded me more and more of a computer game with its set-up and a console that helps you navigate this space. Another nod to poststructuralism and cyberpunk. Travelling the Troposphere is a lot like playing second-life or surfing the internet.
The quest for reality, God and love spans the whole novel. The beginning is a quick introduction to the relevant thinkers and theories, and with then really gains momentum with Ariel’s travel to the Troposphere. From then on you can never be quite sure what is real and what is not; there is the novel within the novel, a reality within reality, and there is so much talk about thought experiments that no one can miss that novel one is holding is one big thought experiment in itself. As Ariel says, “let me become part of a book”. The God storyline explores the power of creating and changing the world, if only we think in the right language. Thomas is always skating the edge of too esoteric for me. Often it works, sometimes it makes me wince. For all that I’m not very skilled at logic, I have little tolerance for things that require complete faith: Homeopathy, religion etc. But even if this is sometimes a problem for me, I was willing to read on about homeopathy, greek mouse gods and Ariel’s sexual escapades to see what she makes of the load of ideas she throws at the reader. Well, nothing that satisfied me. Did I regret reading this novel? No, but I think that Thomas is at her best when she introduces all the concepts and theories that interest her, her enthusiasm is quite catching. But the resolution was not for me, and I also feel that the novel is about 100 pages too long for the plot. I’ll probably still read her newest work, and now at least I know some basic Derrida theory and understand Schrödinger’s Cat!
Last complaint of this cranky review: Why does it seem like every other author uses some German in their novel but is incapable of proper research? “gedankenexperiments”*, is actually spelled Gedankenexperimente! Nouns are spelled with capital letters in German, and the proper plural form in this case is -e. Even Wikipedia knows better!
Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!