Newest Review: ... Because the book has 2 sections although they are linked what happens on "earth" is just as interesting as what happens... more
Y Don't You Read This?
The End of Mr. Y - Scarlett Thomas
Member Name: SWSt
The End of Mr. Y - Scarlett Thomas
Advantages: Instantly intruiging and fascinating throughout
Disadvantages: Can be a little heavy going at times, tends to be a Marmite book
Every so often, you stumble across a book which is just so different, so intriguing that it reminds you all over again why you love reading so much. The End of Mr Y is one of those books.
Which is rather appropriate, really, because the main plot involves a woman - Ariel Manto - who, well, stumbles across a book that many believe no longer exist, and about which she is writing her PhD thesis. The book leads her to the secret of time travel and getting inside other people's heads to find out what they are thinking - a useful, bur also rather deadly talent.
From that plot summary, you could be forgiven for thinking that Mr Y is a fairly standard science fiction book. You'd be wrong. Instead, it is an interesting (and at times challenging) read which muses upon philosophy, religion, science, psychology and pretty much any other subject you would care to name. Oh, and along the way, it remembers to tell a really interesting story.
I'm sorry if this all sounds a little vague and confusing, but The End of Mr Y is definitely one of those books where the less you know about it going in, the more enjoyable you will find it. It is very much a journey of discovery for both the main character and the reader; the more you read, the more you find out.
Author Scarlett Thomas proves very adept at spinning a good yarn. Her novel is very definitely set in the real world, but a real world in which strange things (not just coincidences) can and do happen. She creates her characters and settings with real skill, clearly building on real people, places and experiences, so that the novel always retains a strong air of reality, no matter how outlandish it might get become at times.
Alongside this, she carefully interweaves some really quite complex scientific, philosophic or religious theories. Normally, these are not the sort of things you want to see in a book you are reading for pleasure, but they are very skilfully written into the plot so that they become an integral part of it, necessary to understand what is going on. Better still, if you are not familiar with these ideas and theories (as most of us won't be), Thomas explains them carefully. At no point, however, d o you feel as though you are being lectured or talked down to, since she skilfully constructs conversations between her characters which help the reader keep up with what is happening. Often, such conversations can come across as contrived, breaking into the "reality" the author has created and pushing the reader back out into the own "real world"; reminding them they are, after all, just reading a book. Not so with The End of Mr Y - the conversations flowing naturally from the events which the characters have just witnessed.
Nor is the cramming in of so many ideas and theories mere intellectual snobbery or an attempt by the author to show how clever she is. Although there were a few occasions when the going got a bit heavy for the most part everything which is included is essential in some way to the plot - and surprisingly enjoyable to read about. I really felt like I learned something from The End of Mr Y - and there aren't too many novels you can say that about.
Thomas succeeds in this because she carefully blends the fantastic with the mundane so that no matter how ridiculous or outlandish events become, they always retain an air of reality. So, for example, one minute her heroine is travelling through the world of minds she has discovered; the next she is having a rather sordid little liaison with a gentleman friend in the toilets of a Little Chef... for money.
All this is helped by the fact that Thomas has a very readable style. The book just grabbed me from the start. From the opening pages you are intrigued by strange little book. Indeed, even before you open the front cover, it has grabbed your attention since all the page edges are coloured black - not something you see every day! Once you start reading, you will be hooked and, despite the sometimes complex subject matter, I couldn't stop reading.
The characters in Thomas' novel were a surprising bunch. Without doubt, they are a horrible lot. Selfish, thoughtless, rude, lazy and demonstrating so much of the less pleasant side of human nature that you should hate them all. Yet, Thomas manages to achieve the opposite by making them all likeable. In truth, I'm not quite sure how she achieves this, because even the main character has few redeeming characteristics. Although not "bad" or "evil", she is incredibly self-centred, caring little for anyone or anything than her own "mission" to find out more about the book.
Yet at the same time, Manto is a deeply engaging person. Flawed, certainly, but highly interesting and someone you want to find out more about. I think that partly comes from the fact that you become so wrapped up in her discovery that you become almost as obsessed as she does. She is obsessed with finding out the "truth" about the world of minds she has discovered; you become obsessed with finding out what she is finding out!
I particularly enjoyed the book's understated, wry sense of humour. Ariel does and says the things that so many of us would want to, but daren't. She points out some of the absurdities of modern life and has sly little digs at all sorts of things. Set against the more serious, pseudo-intellectual tone of the rest of the book, this humour works very well, peppering the book with pithy observations that will have you nodding your head in agreement.
It's not a book that is going to suit everyone and, certainly, if you look at the comments and votes on Amazon, it divides opinion. I've already noted that some people might find the philosophical, psychological and religious discussions a little heavy going and feel that these drag the text down. Some will also feel uncomfortable about the sex scenes, although to be honest, to me, these didn't appear to be particularly graphic or intense (indeed, from the quotes on the back of the book, I was expecting far worse).
This is one of those "suck-it-and-see books". You'll either fall in love with it and devour it or you'll wonder how such a load of tripe ever got published and consider it a needless waste of trees. As you've probably gathered, I've got both feet firmly planted in the "enjoy" camp.
The End of Mr Y
Canongate Books, 2008
© Copyright SWSt 2011
Summary: Try it - you might like it