Saturday, November 3, 2007

The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas

The End of Mr. Y begins with a very vivid and accurate depiction of a poor graduate student. Ariel Manto is obsessed with many things, including theoretical physics and obscure writers. At a conference she meets a professor who shares her fixation on the author Lumas and decides to undertake graduate studies with him. At the start of this book Burlem, the professor, has been gone for months; he’s vanished. By a series of unexpected happenings, including a building collapsing into a tunnel, Ariel stumbles upon the last book by Lumas, which has the same title: The End of Mr. Y. The book is very rare with only one known copy. It is also rumored to be cursed.

Following the book’s instructions Ariel ventures into homeopathic remedies that lead her into the troposphere. The troposphere is Lumas’s term for the world of the mind. It is possible to move from mind to mind in this space. The book becomes a thriller with former agents from America trying to retrieve the book so they can make more of the remedy to enter the troposphere. The agents are after Ariel physically and in her mind. They employ KIDS to try and hurt her mind. She is saved by a mouse god named Apollo Smintheus. Ariel is helped in her endeavors to escape the agents by Adam, a former priest.

This book has some really great descriptive writing in it. The intertwining descriptions of quantum theory and religion are interesting to read, especially the multi verse versus the godverse theory. This is rare to find in a novel. I personally found the story much more interesting when it stayed in the physical world than in the troposphere. Ariel’s interactions with her lover, Patrick, are complex and seem to not correlate with the actions of an intelligent person. She keeps referring to what’s happening as only happening to her body so it doesn’t really matter. She would prefer to live a life in books, “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 the book; I’d give anything for that.” (pg 117)

I’d highly recommend reading this book if you’re interested in science or religion or simply in how other people’s minds might work. As I mentioned earlier, I was not thrilled with the troposphere part of the book. I also was disturbed at the idea of the KIDS being autistic kids who were sent out to perform missions. However, the descriptions in some parts were intensely real with Ariel being able to feel the pain of the mind she was inhabiting. Here she is in her housemate’s mind, “I was facing the door; I’d placed myself there like a little welcome mat ( ) waiting for him to wipe his feet on me. So he sat there sipping his coffee, looking beyond me to the wall, covered in postcards from Paris, and I just watched people leave like bacteria looking for a new host to infect.” (pg 176)

1 comment:

jublke said...

Just wanted to mention that the "troposphere" is an actual scientific term, according to Understanding Weather and Climate by Aguado & Burt (1999). If you think of the Earth's atmosphere in terms of temperature, there are four vertical layers, with the troposphere as the lowest layer. They write on page 15, "The troposphere is where the vast majority of weather events occur and is marked by a general pattern in which temperature decreases with height. Despite being the thinnest of the atmosphere's four layers, the troposphere contains 80 percent of its mass." No mention of whether you can move from mind to mind in it, though. ;) I wonder where Thomas got the idea?