I’m not sure what to do with this book. I wasn’t sure about it the whole time I was reading it.
I read Scarlett Thomas’ PopCo in London last spring (it was on the 3-for-2 table, had a neat cover) and I enjoyed it but didn’t love it. There was this strange detached feeling that came from reading it – as though I was experiencing the novel from behind a plexiglass screen. I could see everything just fine and hear it mostly okay but there was something blocking me from getting all the way into it.
The End of Mr. Y is a better and altogether more challenging novel than PopCo (which, as I said, I did enjoy) but that doesn’t mean it fully transcends that issue. It transcends a lot of other things – the traditional description of “novel”, the way we perceive the universe, sense (at times) – but it still suffers from that separated feeling. Oh, better than the plexiglass description – its like you’re living in one of those suburbs of London on the Piccadilly line headed towards Heathrow and its all gray and you feel slightly sapped just by looking at it. That feeling, of dull-ness but just barely, is in these books.
The protagonist is what I’m dubbing a “Scarlett Thomas” protagonist – because PopCo had a similar main character and her new book Our Tragic Universe apparently has another similar one… so that’s a trend if I’ve ever seen one. She’s a bit of an outsider, a bit of a loner. She’s smart. She has guy issues. Okay, got it.
The plot itself revolves around this book that has a curse on it. Of course, there’s more than meets the eye here. SPOILERS…..
The curse, of course, isn’t real. The whole thing has to do with this recipe in the book that allows you to enter this… other portion of reality called the Troposphere. Where you can enter the consciousness of other creatures. ANY other creatures – mice, humans, whatever. So if you’re looking for a The Shadow of the Wind/The Dumas Club kind of novel, about the book itself… look elsewhere. The book (title: The End of Mr. Y – clever) is a facilitator for the action involving the Troposphere.
There’s a fair amount of running about and an ostensibly tense pursuit by shadowy figures… but really, it all just feels like an excuse to talk. Which is what the characters do, quite often. Ariel (the main character) will have pages and pages of conversation about philosophic things…. and then she’ll get tied up and fucked by her married fling. Its actually a little obnoxious.
That said, the stuff they talk about is what really elevates this ‘novel’ beyond anything it could have otherwise been. This novel is, essentially, a thought experiment put to paper. Basically, what if thought was, in fact, matter? Taken to a not-quite logical but certainly understandable extreme, you get the stuff in this book.
I’m finding it actually quite difficult to talk about the book as a book. The theories presented – that our thoughts can sculpt the universe around us and so forth – are definitely interesting, but also very complicated and a bit mind-fuck-y. I mean, Einstein’s theories of relativity were created and therefore those theories are true. If phrases like “matter has to be encoded by thought” freak you out, stay far far far far away from this book.
Rating: 4 out of 5. Despite the sometimes mundane prose and the relatively predictable plotting and the complete lack of anything resembling a resolution (especially to the raging question that pops up about 3/4 of the way through and deals with the first line of the book… but actually to the plot as a whole), this was a really good book. Because it made me think like whoa. I’m not sure if I agree with the thought experiment here but, like the first time I saw The Matrix, I’m seeing the world in a brand new “…what if” sort of way. And that’s definitely worth four points.
PS: how great are the covers for this/PopCo/Our Tragic Universe? The UK covers, at least.