The End of Mr. Y-Scarlett Thomas
"A cursed book. A missing professor. Some nefarious men in gray suits. And a dreamworld called the Troposphere? Ariel Manto has a fascination with nineteenth-century scientists—especially Thomas Lumas and The End of Mr. Y, a book no one alive has read. When she mysteriously uncovers a copy at a used bookstore, Ariel is launched into an adventure of science and faith, consciousness and death, space and time, and everything in between. Seeking answers, Ariel follows in Mr. Y’s footsteps: She swallows a tincture, stares into a black dot, and is transported into the Troposphere—a wonderland where she can travel through time and space using the thoughts of others. There she begins to understand all the mysteries surrounding the book, herself, and the universe. Or is it all just a hallucination?"
This is an attractive book. The dark red page edges, the fantastic cover design all conspired to help me to love it. This is a book that looks good on your shelf.
Inside though, it's a bit confused. There are so many threads to this story that its execution proves to be somewhat befuddling. I'm no stranger to fantastical stories with technology and ideas over my head but instead of handling it at a break-neck pace, Thomas seems to limp along and then rush to a new thread. I loved the premise, the idea behind it all, that you can actually walk through the connections in our heads to times in history. I loved the image of all our thoughts, our souls, manifesting as cities or villages. Human beings as dwellings. Lovely. But Thomas doesn't help you, the reader, understand why this is happening. Parts are treated rather scientifically (the process of walking into your city) but then motivations are given almost fantastical and fateful impetus. The characters were just so hard to get into-for a story that you could walk in other people's heads, the characters were astoundingly opaque, shallow, and unlikeable. Ariel, the main character is mainly just shock material for the sheer joy of shocking. And then the love story...I want to emphasize “love story” which was fairly pointless and unbelievable.
This is all my post-finishing impression though. While reading it, I was quite enjoying the whole thing, waiting for Ariel to discover things and fulfill the task of the rat god and all that. There is chock full of Einstein and Heidegger and quantum mechanics and other sorts of intensely cerebral distractions that I kind of just love even when they seem a bit name dropped (I don't need Baudrillard explained to me, but I like being reminded that he can be relevant to things that are not Baudrillard).
But...ok, I've a tendency to hate the last five minutes of certain movies (oh man, High Tension is #1 most despised ending) but I don't usually experience such vehemence towards endings in books. In fact, I think the last time I hated the last couple of pages of a book was that epilogue at the end of Harry Potter (seriously Rowling, what was that?! I'm still miffed). Until The End of Mr. Y. Fittingly I hated the end. Not of Mr. Y but of the book. What.a.cop.out. All those pages of development and waffling and no plot and then too much plot and then you throw this kind of ending at me?! How completely unsatisfying.