Review: The End of Mr. Y

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!

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26 thoughts on “Review: The End of Mr. Y

  1. How timely your review is – I just finished reading my first Scarlett Thomas novel and will be posting about it very soon. Reading your thoughts on this book, it seems Thomas has a definite agenda when it comes to writing, as her latest novel, Our Tragic Universe, is really all about ideas and almost verges on meta-fiction at times (or maybe it even fully crosses that boundary… I’ll have to think about that some more). I enjoyed it well enough, but for those looking for a novel that tells a plot-driven story, it’s really not that at all!

    On the upside, I don’t believe it has any German in it! 😉

    1. I’ll be looking out for your review then! 🙂 I did enjoy how she explores ideas and themes, perhaps I’d have enjoyed it more without a (unsatisfying) plot 😀

      Maybe her editor took the German out of the new book because they realized they didn’t know anything about the language! 😉

  2. Interesting review. I’ll read it anyway to see if I feel the same way about this. I’ll probably be the sort who google up ideas and find out what’s all about, but wouldn’t give a hoot about the German spelling because I don’t know any! But I’m at awe at people who do. *hint* *hint*.. 😉

    1. Oh yes do, it’s so interesting how differently people feel about this book. I hope you’ll enjoy it more than I did, the ideas part is really good.

      Haha, no awe necessary since German is my mother tongue! 😀

  3. I wholeheartedly agree with your review. I remember that I kept thinking ‘What kind of drugs was Thomas on when writing this?’.

    And your last remark about the German – thank God someone agrees with me! I thought I wasn’t tolerant enough because this bugs the hell out of me. I get really angry when writers get even the simplest words wrong. I know German is a very difficult language, but opening a dictionary would solve so many problems and get rid of so many mistakes.

    1. Haha, glad you found the plot weird, too. I don’t think we’re intolerant, but we should be able to expect that writers and editors do a bit of checking up on something like that. I was really surprised they overlooked that, I mean the woman understands Derrida. Somehow German seems to pop up in a lot of books I read latey, but so often with mistakes. And it’s not the easiest language, but you’re so right about the dictionary!

    1. But you could probably tell me if the quantum physics part is correct! 😀 Just give one of her books a try and see if it’s for you, I liked PopCo much better.

  4. This was exactly my reaction to this book! The first half enthralled me, and it went downhill subsequently. The unevenness of the book has made me leery of trying any more books by this author.

    1. I’ve read this one and PopCo, and I had the problem with the ending in both cases. Though I found that the bad second half was shorter in PopCo 😀 If only she wrote essays, then we’d get her ideas on diffèrance and quantum physics but wouldn’t have to put up with the plot.

  5. I loved this book. I found it very original and I love it when authors include complex science in their novels. I loved the fast pace of this book and the way it was combined with intelligent questions about the world.

    It shames me to admit that I didn’t notice the German errors, but my German is quite rusty.

    Sorry you didn’t enjoy it 😦

    1. Glad you enjoyed this more than I did. The plot, especially the ending just wasn’t for me, but I did enjoy the theory bits. At least then the mistake with the German word didn’t bother you 🙂

  6. Uh oh, too bad you didn’t love this more. It sounds like a whole lot of weirdness going on in this book. I tried one book by this author but just couldn’t get in to it at all… so I mailed it to Iris. LOL. Here’s hoping she likes it more 😉 I have heard great things about her books, but haven’t tried anything else. I wouldn’t notice the poor knowledge or German, but it certainly seems like something an editor should pick up on!

  7. I’ve seen this book about a lot and haven’t known anything more about it. Good review but I’m afraid I don’t think this is for me now, sounds like a lot of things I will hurt my head trying to understand lol.

  8. Interesting review, Bina! I agree with your thoughts on the ending – though I haven’t read ‘The End of Mr.Y’ yet, I felt the same way about the ending in ‘PopCo’ – it was a bit sudden and open-ended for me. But I love the fact that Thomas writes about different ideas in her book. I read the first chapter of ‘The End of Mr.Y’ and it looks intriguing. I am looking forward to reading it soon.

    I loved your comment on writers using German words in their books (maybe they want to look sophisticated :)) and spelling them wrongly 🙂

    On Schrödinger’s cat, if you are interested in reading more about it, there is a book called ‘In Search of Schrödinger’s Cat’ by John Gribbin. It is excellent.

    1. Can’t wait to see what you make of TEoMY! Thanks for recommending the Gribbin book, it sounds very interesting and as if a non-physic student might be able to understand it 🙂

      Haha, yup German is so sophisticated 😉 I guess it’s a common mistake but it should be edited out. My writing would be so much better f I had an editor 😀

  9. I would rate this book slightly more positive than you, even though I agree that the second half is definitely much weaker than the first one. I really liked Ariel, the book´s protagonist.
    I think Thomas should hire someone to talk the second halfs and endings of her books through with – they are always a bit muddled and the endings have always disappointed me. Maybe Thomas is very enthusiastic when writing the first half of a book and this enthusiasm decresases during the writing process.
    There are certain elements that seem to exist in all of her books, for example that there is always a sympathetic German character in it (not so sure about PopCo though… yes, I think there is also a likeable German in it.) It is not often that you find friendly and true-to-life German characters in non-German literature and Thomas’ book is a happy proof that there is always an exception to the rule.
    And of course the homeopathy thing, which did not bother me in “The End of Mr. Y” but started getting onto my nerves as soon as I started reading PopCo.
    Thomas ought to be a little less idealistic and enthusiastic about saving the world and instead try to look for more realistic endings, that would certainly make her a better writer.
    Also I cannot stand writers who try to brainwash you into some ideological thing in their novels, such as Thomas always does with homeopathy.
    I cannot recommend reading her last novel, “Our Tragic Universe”, as it is incredibly esoteric.
    I am quite curious about her Lily Pascale mysteries, though.
    (I have to apologize for my slightly weird English, spending some time in a country where I tried to learn a new foreign language did not do it any good.;-)

    1. Well, I didn’t hate the book, I really liked the first half. But I didn’t like Ariel as much as Alice in PopCo, and surprisingly I didn’t like TEoMY more than PopCp which I thought would be the case because this one’s closer to my interests (lit theory, books, uni).

      I’m really not into homeopathy etc, but it didn’t get on my nerves that much in PopCo, but it turned up in Little Face and then TEoMY, too. So maybe it’s just too much of late 🙂

      I think I’ll wait a while before reading her newest, but the mysteries sound great (and your English is fine!) 🙂

  10. Great thorough piece on the pros and con of this book. I’m fascinated by the cover but I think I’ll pass since it seemed to delve into the obscure and there’s only so much esoteric rhetoric I can digest. Loved the bit about the German faux pas… too bad the editor didn’t catch that one.

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