Thursday, April 2, 2009

The End of Mr. Y Book Review

Well, I did say I would post a review, so here it is. It's not much different from my first impressions, but I continue nonetheless. I've left it a couple days as well, so the book isn't burning bright in my mind as I write this, but rather I'm left with an overall sensation of the read, rather than the finer details.

So, our protagonist, Ariel Manto, is a self-destructive, promiscuous woman with no ties in the world, few friends, and the only possessions that matter to her are her books. She writes a column for a magazine, which leads her to thoroughly researching topics that take her interest, topics that happen to dabble in philosophy and quantum physics. Rather than having studied such topics at a university, she instead reads books on the subjects. Her particular flavour is the "thought experiment", and the author labours on extensively about the subject through much of the book.

Anyways, the story starts with her coming across an incredibly rare, cursed book called The End of Mr. Y. She buys it, and reads it (naturally). The author, a certain Thomas Lumas, is a nut, and was also fascinated by thought experiments in the early 1900s. The book, our Ariel theorizes, is not a fictional story, but in fact an account of a thought experiment actually carried out by Lumas. The book tells a story of a man who finds a concoction allowing him to travel to the "troposphere", which is a place that allows you to enter people's minds. Much of the book is dedicated to his search for the recipe for the concoction, which he obtains eventually.

The page with the recipe on is torn from the book. After some searching and further plot development, Ariel finds the removed page and the recipe. And so, because said book is a thought experiment rather than a fictional story, she brews the concoction and tries it herself. Of course, it works, and our Ariel is suddenly able to live in the minds of others through this "troposphere".

The story follows her journey through the troposphere, and her attempts to understand it. We accompany her on this journey, meeting strange characters both in and out of the troposphere, and the plot includes secret agents, Gods, time travel, and churches. It is a fascinating story, and the beginning part is so well written, that it hooks you in completely and I found myself wondering if, like the book in the book, this book is more than just a fictional tale, and whether I should attempt to brew the concoction myself, too, just to be sure (I haven't yet, if you're wondering).

I read the book in 2 or 3 days, which, considering that I work full time, is a considerable measure of its magnetism when it is lying in wait for me to plunder through the story. It meanders somewhat at parts, leaving me feeling like the author had nowhere else to plonk her ideas on subjects like metaphysics, language, quantum physics and philosophy, but it did sort of fit into the story, and certainly was a welcome explanation for why holy water has such exciting side effects.

I did find some of the characteristics of the troposphere a bit strange, and seemingly non-fitting (the computer-like console, for instance) in the grander scheme of things, but these oddities are easily explained by the "metaphor" bit of the troposphere's building blocks. I also gave the author her due in that this is her story, not mine, and so her imaginary world can work in whatever way she chooses it too.

The story's ending is also somewhat different to the way the story started out, and in hindsight I felt like perhaps the author was dying to get it finished, and so wrote quicker and quicker and eventually cut short the ending to meet a deadline. Having said that, however, the ending fits and does provide a small measure of a satisfying "aha" moment, and allows one to think further on all the stuff that happened in the book, and its meaning.

I'm still wondering whether Scarlet Thomas is a good writer, or whether she had a fantastic idea for a story - the plot and idea does pull you through the weak bits, but I will read more of her books to find out, which one assumes must mean she is at least a decent author.

All in all, I loved the book, and it's a must read (especially for people who enjoy the more fantastical aspects of fiction). The End of Mr. Y certainly gets my thumbs up.

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