The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas
|Book Name:||The End of Mr. Y|
|Publisher(s):||Mariner Books (US) Canongate Books Ltd (UK)|
|Formatt:||Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / eBook|
|Release Date:||October 2, 2006 (US) July 5, 2007 (UK)|
“We make reason, and only dream of creators.” There’s something about this line that I found both profound and disturbing, I also feel it pretty much sums up the central theme of this novel.
I first came across The End of Mr. Y on my Gothic module during my Masters in English Literature and it could not be more appropriate, it involves so much that a literature student studies especially theorists and those mind boggling theories that they forget to warn you needs to be in every essay if you wish to get a decent mark. Also for any Big Bang Theory fans you will appreciate the reference to Schrodinger’s Cat. That being said this book is a difficult read, there are numerous difficult theories used throughout the book and I’m not sure whether this is the best way to be introduced to them. On the other hand some could read this book and then go on to look up these theories, which is certainly a positive.
The protagonist is a young woman called Ariel who I initially identified with but this rapidly declined. In this day and age I appreciate that characters don’t need to be considered ‘likeable’ but you do need to care about them in order to be invested in the story and I ceased to care about Ariel and the story as a whole. She is very blatantly a self destructive character, which again is fine, but also immensely frustrating because she knows exactly what she’s doing but continues to do it. Now whilst I accept that this probably an accurate portrayal, when it gets to the stage where a character knows that their actions, which are mostly selfish, will result in their own death and they do it anyway my patience wore too thin. It became clear very early on that there was a very high chance that Ariel was going to die and it eventually left me feeling angry and just willing her to get on with it considering she seemed so adamant to hurl herself off the cliff.
Now I feel I should warn perspective readers to not expect a typical fantasy/sci-fi novel. Given the blurb and cover, which depicts the shadow of a bohemian looking Victorian man, I expected a Doctor Who style time travel story but it is not this at all. It challenges the very concept of fantasy and magic and tries to portray the fantastical in the real world, not in the same way as Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials but in a similar fashion i.e., fantasy existing alongside the real world.
The idea that magic and the fantastical did actually exist, and we actually ‘thought’ it out of existence because no one believes anymore, is a great notion which Thomas almost succeeds in making believable. Now for all you diehard fantasy/sci-fi enthusiasts out there this book can tempt you with a giant rat god who rides a scooter and is apparently the Greek God Apollo. There’s also an alternate world, dead demon children, mind control, curses and even some time travel.
A large chunk of the novel involves Ariel being inside other people/animals minds. Now it cannot be ignored what a challenge for a writer it is to portray all these accurately and Thomas shows great skill; the different portrayals of the teenage girls is acutely accurate and a highlight of the book. However, when Ariel goes into Burlem’s mind this is where I felt Thomas slipped up. I appreciate it was one of the only ways that she could get in all the details and backstory she needed, but people just don’t think that way, they don’t think about their lives in a linear fashion, in a clear cut step by step way that makes sense. Thomas had been so accurate up to this point that it felt like she’d written this part before the rest of the novel or it was meant to be included previously and not out of Burlem’s mind. It is interesting and entertaining but lacked the accuracy of the rest of mind jumping scenes, it was just there because it was necessary for the plot.
Furthermore this book includes some of the most pretentious lines about sex I’ve ever read. I appreciate that it’s meant to show the contrast between the gritty reality of the sex Ariel has had throughout the rest of the book, but it felt so over the top and left me cringing rather than swooning. Now it may have seemed romantic when I was a teenager but a book that contains so much intelligence including the storyline of choosing to die for someone you’ve known for a matter of days just didn’t seem feasible. I could accept Ariel and Adam meeting each other and immediately knowing they wanted to be together, but giving up your life for this person? Really?
The End of Mr. Y aimed so high and interrogated and challenged some really difficult theories and in the process created some of its own which you find yourself attempting to comprehend and believe, but then it’s almost as if Thomas ‘copped out’ at the end. Now I won’t give away the ending but I will say it resulted in me going “Seriously? Seriously?!” and throwing the book down on my desk. I cannot deny my admiration for Thomas attempting what she did and there were many times where this book really did make me think, but I also cannot deny how let down I felt given how mind-blowing I expected it to be.