on October 5, 2006
I'll be honest: I was initially drawn to this book because of the cute little mouse on the front cover. I picked it up and read the back. It said in huge letters: IF YOU KNEW THIS BOOK WAS CURSED, WOULD YOU READ IT? Intrigued, I read the rest of the blurb and discovered it was about a woman, Ariel, who read a book that was supposedly cursed and wound up lost in an alternate level of consciousness where she could read others' minds. Wow! Now I was really intrigued!
As soon as I had the book in my hands, I couldn't wait to read it and find out if the book really was cursed.The book-within-a-book that Ariel reads may be cursed and it may not be, but I won't spoil it for those of you who haven't read it.
However, Scarlett Thomas's novel is definetely cursed. Each page of it will literally haunt and possess you. As you read it, you will become so absorbed in it that you will lose awareness of everything else around you.
You will stay up for hours after your bedtime trying to solve the many mysteries that lie within the multi-layered plots of the book. You will find yourself asking deep, profound questions, such as: Is there a God? How did the universe begin? Are there other universes out there that we aren't aware of? What are thoughts made of? Are thoughts tangible? Are we all connected somehow by the tangled web of thoughts we weave? Can we read people's minds and thoughts? Can others read our minds? What would it be like if I turned into a mouse? (I kid you not about the last one!) And when you finally go to bed, your dreams will be possessed by the labyrinths and questions of the book, and you will find yourself trying to make sense of it all. Even after you have finished the book, it will continue to haunt your mind. You will be filled with an insatiable desire to aquire all of Scarlett Thomas's other writings and read them!
What I'm finding so curious is not this book, which I found to be a pleasurable read, all in all, but the polarised reviews of it. On the one hand, we have the rather pig-headed remark by Allison Block writing for The American Library Association, "Chick lit for nerds."-- On the other, we have Jonathan Coe's remark sprawled across the front cover, "Not only will you have a great time reading this book, but you will finish it a cleverer person than when you started."--- This is all a bit much. To begin with the Block-headed review, perhaps Ms. Block should stick to reviewing mindless testosterone-filled novels, plenty of them about. I'm not a chick, and I don't consider myself a nerd (though Ms. Block would no doubt disagree, since I fancied this book). Mr. Coe's remark, on the other hand is a bit much on eulogistic side. I don't feel any "cleverer" for reading this book. The ideas aren't terribly original; you can find much more intriguing and mind-bending notions by reading a popular book on String Theory, for example.
What is formidable is Ms Thomas's ability to form an exciting, sexy romp of a narrative employing these ideas. It's simply a wheeze to read. Contrary to what the Ms. Blocks of the world may assert, this book if for people who feel as Ariel feels on page 117:
"Real life is running out of money, and then food. Real life is having no proper heating. Real life is physical. Give me books instead: Give me the invisibility of the contents of books, the thoughts, the ideas, the images. Let me become part of a book;"
So, go on, it's fun, and it's not as if you'll be cursed or anything.
on October 12, 2006
Ariel Manto is a PhD candidate at an English University where she is working on a thesis based on the works of an obscure author from the late 19th century. Her thesis advisor disappeared a year before the novel's action begins--on the day that a campus building collapses over a long unused railroad tunnel that runs beneath the campus.
Ariel lives a rather hand-to-mouth life, in a seedy apartment building with inadequate heat, on a budget that makes Ramen noodles a feast, and in the company of an odd assortment of characters. On the day of the building collapse, she has to walk home through an unfamiliar neighborhood, wanders into a used bookshop, and finds the elusive last book by the subject of her thesis, The End of Mr. Y.
At this point, her somewhat unconventional life takes a turn for the bizarre, and the reader should strap on the roller coaster seat belt and hold on, hands inside the car please.
Ariel begins reading the book, discovers the secret that so many have tried to surpress, and--very much like Alice down the rabbit hole--follows the clues, and formulas, and the recipes in the book to discover the secret of Mr. Y.
It's a fantastical book, but Thomas makes Ariel's strange journey, the people she meets and flees from, the atmosphere and location of her journeys, all of what she experiences in the course of the novel, move from one point to the next in a fashion that carries the reader along--a little breathlessly and mouth agape, perhaps--but anxious to see what will happen next.
Thomas is a skilled writer, and she knows how to pace the novel in a way that keeps the reader from being overwhelmed by the strangeness of the tale. Ariel is refreshingly candid about her history and her unfortunate tendency to wander down some unsavory romantic lanes. She's a forward character, technology-obsessed, casual about relationships, drifting a bit--and keenly observant of others.
Armchair Interviews says: If you're looking for an exciting story with a fantastical twist, dive into the world of Ariel Manto and The End of Mr. Y.
If you are interested in: mind reading, mind control, academia, time travel, homeopathy, quantum physics, adultery, kinky sex, laboratory mice, the creation of gods, the fate of autistic kids in the troposphere and/or how to keep an English apartment warm.
A very well-written, marvellously inventive and intelligent book about... I'm still not sure, but I loved every minute of reading it. One of the usual drawbacks of books that are as crazily inventive as this one is that the ending doesn't quite live up to the book -- never fear. The ending was a bit sad, I thought, but it fit. Very satisfying, especially if you like sci fi elements in your fiction, and if you don't, this is the place to start.
on March 18, 2014
Let me preface with: I have been in a reading slump. The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas is a recommendation I received from my manager. And boy, did it work.
This is the only book I can think of that I’ve ever deliberately read slowly. The main character, Ariel Manto, is a girl who is trying to get a PhD on thought experiments. So throughout the book, the reader is skillfully given philosophical and/or scientific passages that really make you think. In wanting to understand, I took the time to read and re-read passages. (Though, of course, it doesn’t hurt that Thomas’s writing style effortlessly drew me in as a reader.)
The main focus of Ariel’s PhD is Thomas E. Lumas and thought experiments of his time period. One of Lumas’s most obscure books is The End of Mr. Y, which is rumoured to be cursed as everyone who has read the book has died/gone missing. By chance, Ariel one day manages to locate a copy of the book. Even with what she knows of the book’s dubious history, she can’t pass up the chance to read it.
Ariel is a brilliant character. She hasn’t had the easiest life, but that doesn’t stop her search for knowledge.
“There’s always another level that we just don’t know. The Scientists have it down to the quarks and electrons, and the various weird variations of them that come down in cosmic rays and so on, but they don’t know if that’s it, if they have found indivisible matter – what the Greeks called atomos. It could even be that there’s infinite divisibility. And there are still these big questions that no one can solve: What came before the beginning and what will happen after the end. The fact that these big questions still exist is exciting. No one really knows anything very important – and there’s still such a lot to know.” (Pg. 226)
After Ariel reads the book, events unfold quickly. This was a pleasure to read as someone who enjoys that bit of supernatural, that hint of romance, and the philosophical ideas and thought experiments that got me thinking. Considering the language and some of the acts that occur in the book, this is definitely an adult fiction novel, though an argument can be made for the mature teen readers out there. This book is for people who are looking for a wild ride and the thoughtful engagement of the mind.
For this review and others, check out BookMunchies.com.
on December 3, 2015
I found this novel in parts fascinating, in parts infuriating.
First, the good. An interesting concept (a potion that allows the drinker to inhabit another person's body, and experience their thoughts and emotions) that sometimes was delivered extremely well. The description of Ariel's neighbor's thoughts and emotions was one of the strongest parts of the book. Thomas gives Axel, the neighbor, and most of the characters in her book distinct and well-developed, each with his/her own voice. Her "novel-within-a-novel" is also well done, capturing well the distinctive, older, style of writing she proposed for that book. Finally, Thomas has a full box of metafictional tricks, and she deploys these with skill throughout. The meta-references, and meta-meta-references were fun, to me.
The bad. The narrator, Ariel, is a bit too unsympathetic, though obviously that is a matter of taste for the reader. But I found myself not really caring about what happened to her, or her adventures. The plot is creaky. It seemed to me that Thomas realized that the very slight plot of the novel-within-the-novel wouldn't support the larger novel she planned around it, and so she had to come up with something more dramatic and involved (or maybe her editor told her that she needed a more engaging plot). But what she has come up with is melodramatic and convoluted. The novel also includes lots of devices that are there only because the novel wouldn't work without them (such as Ariel calling up "console" when she wants to go into a different mind), but that otherwise make no sense within the story she's created. Finally, Ariel becomes obsessed (as Mr. Y did) with re-entering the Troposphere, as Thomas names the mystical place where the potion takes its users. But she really fails to communicate why anyone would be so obsessed with the place, or what makes it so attractive. As Ariel's desire to go back to the Troposphere is a main plot driver, the failure to make a convincing case as to why anyone would want to go there is a major weakness of the book. I have to say that I also found the grimy sex scenes a bit gratuitous, but that is again a matter of taste.
The ugly. The dialogue. Oh Lord, the dialogue. It's atrocious. Pages and pages are spent on conversations, primarily between Ariel and Adam, her "love interest", about scientific and philosophical matters. It's the worst sort of first-year-university-student-drunk-on-too-much-booze b.s., with the most superficial (and often inaccurate) condensation of already almost-unintelligible Continental philosophy (Husserl, Heidegger, Derrida, etc.) you can possible imagine. Half-way through, I just started skipping over these conversations. They add nothing to the plot. I don't know whether Thomas herself believes that she's properly elucidating these philosophies, or whether it's just the characters, but either way it's just embarrassing and cringe-inducing. Thomas constantly has Ariel say or think things such as "... which made me think of Derrida" or "... which leads me back to Heidegger's theory", followed by amateurish, wildly incorrect summations of the relevant philosopher's ideas. And she has a very annoying tendency to refer to ideas, theories, arguments as "stuff". I counted four uses of the word "stuff" on just one page -- there are literally dozens and dozens throughout the book. Really lazy writing that a good editor should have caught and corrected.
This book would have worked much better as a novella (of the length that the work-within-the-work, "The End of Mr. Y", seems to be), without all the pseudo-philosophical "stuff". As written, it's over-stuffed with needless description and execrable dialogue, which threaten to overwhelm the positive qualities. When I finished it, I realized that, in fact, the book is really just a novelistic retelling of "Being John Malkovich" with lots of unnecessary bells and whistles added in. So I went and re-watched "Being John Malkovich". That's what I'd recommend you do too.
Wow, it's been a while since I've seen such a wrong-headed and dismissive book description from Booklist. Someone needs either a lot more, or a lot less, caffeine. We're being a little short with a book that was long listed for the 2008 Orange Prize for fiction.
There is no "point" to "The End of Mr. Y", unless it means to declare that we are in an age that marks the "End of Mystery" and need to look elsewhere. The heroine's name, Ariel Manto, is after all an anagram for "I Am Not Real".
This is just high end word play, genre play, and book play. You can call it high concept or surreal or the new quantum fiction, or post-modern, where all of the rules are twisted and bent. Lots of cutting edge authors are using quantum conceits to explore traditional issues of consciousness, personality, society and the like. (I bet "Jekyll and Hyde" would have gone there if it could have.) In addition to authors like William Gibson you have a new crop of independent thinkers playing with these ideas. (For example, if you like "The End of Mr. Y" I bet you'll like Jonathan Lethem's As She Climbed Across the Table: A Novel.)
Scarlett Thomas marches to her own drummer; each of her books offers a refreshing new look and new experience. This one in particular is richer, deeper, more complex, more gripping and more fun. Heck, she makes homeopathy interesting. Don't be deterred - the Troposphere is calling.
on October 15, 2011
I bought Our Tragic Universe and The End of Mr Y at the same time - I read Our Tragic Universe first and was bored out of my mind with the main character's whining and obsessive descriptions of the difficulties inherent in knitting a proper pair of socks, but I persevered as I enjoyed the descriptions of Devon and in general, the author's style of writing.
That said, I waited over a year to pick up The End of Mr. Y - oddly enough at exactly the right moment I needed to read it.
An entirely different experience! While Thomas still managed to create characters I cared nothing about, the premise of Mr. Y is absolutely fascinating. The author's background knowledge of philosophy, theology, and literature is woven flawlessly into the plot presenting ideas I obsessed over after finishing the book.
The ending was impossible to see coming as were the twists & turns of plot. Thomas is all about ideas and certainly there were aggravating moments when this reader wished she could argue with some of the characters!
In a time when most fiction isn't worth bothering with as so many authors are afraid to inspire readers to actually "think", this book stands out as one of the best I've read in years. The only reason Mr. Y didn't receive five stars was the characterization - easy to put down a book and forget it if the characters are flat and well, repulsive at times. Yet to do that with Mr. Y would be to miss the treasure hidden in the dirt. Reading this book challenges the reader to question reality and rigidly held beliefs. How often does that happen?
I can't wait to read this book again - though I'd still like to argue with the main character about Derrida!
On a personal note, thank you Scarlett Thomas for introducing me to "St. Jude" - I'd never heard of this particular saint. Discovering him now was an eerie synchronicity making the book even more mysterious and one of the rare novels I'll read a second time.
Scarlett Thomas has unleashed an incredibly ambitious novel here, in the form of a thought experiment encompassing vast areas of philosophy and quantum physics. Like at least one previous reviewer in this forum, I was reminded a bit of Neal Stephenson, at least thematically, in that wired-philosophical-quantum-universal-theory-of-everything sort of way. It's all wrapped up in the tale of a flawed heroine, Ariel, who is researching a supposedly cursed book that offers its few readers a recipe for entering an alternate dimension of pure thought (the Troposphere).
Ariel embarks on bizarre psychosexual explorations in both the Troposphere and in the physical world, while frequently engaging in PhD-level discussions on super-advanced philosophy and relativity. This is the aspect of the book that will probably turn off many readers, as Ariel and the other characters descend into chapter-length egghead discussions, and usually right in the middle of the drama or action. Fortunately Scarlett Thomas seems to know plenty about such matters and she usually - but not always - keeps the brain exercises integrated with the plot. But I can't blame other readers for getting exasperated with the constant obscure references to Heidegger, Derrida, and Einstein - and such discussions really slow down the second half of the novel.
On the good side, the general plotline surrounding the cursed book and the Troposphere is consistently fascinating, and there are some pretty good developments in Ariel's character as she compares her own messed-up life to the possibilities of living in a purely mental realm, in which she can experience the thoughts and feelings of others. The deep-thinking characters are also a bonus for bookworms and philosophically-minded readers, and I bet that Scarlett Thomas could write a believable (if very dense) non-fiction textbook on the postructuralist physics ruminated on by her characters. However, I did not care for the story's ending and Thomas has crammed way too many cosmological and epistemological (gasp!) ideas into the storyline. Regardless of Thomas's ambition, it's very difficult to keep a theory-of-the-universe thought experiment like this under control. Regardless, this is a highly unique novel for readers of a certain mindset. [~doomsdayer520~]
on March 27, 2014
This was a fun read. I wanted it to get more intense than it did, but then again, I'm a real "Clockwork Orange" and "1984" kind of reader. Yet, I would recommend it. Scarlett Thomas presents some extremely interesting concepts in this book, and there are some fun and cool characters. I had occasional suspension of disbelief issues, but they were minor. If you want a good read that won't make you cringe, then buy this book.