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The End of Mr Y
Scarlett Thomas
Canongate Books, 506 pages

The End of Mr Y
Scarlett Thomas
Scarlett Thomas was born in 1972 in England. She attended a variety of schools, including a state junior school in Barking, and a boarding school for eighteen months. During her teenage years she was involved in demonstrations against the Poll Tax, nuclear weapons and the first Gulf War. She studied for her A levels at Chelmsford College and achieved a First in a degree in Cultural Studies at the University of East London from 1992-1995. In 2001, she was named by The Independent as one of 20 Best Young Writers. In 2002, she won Best New Writer in the Elle Style Awards. She has taught English Literature at the University of Kent since 2004, and has previously taught at Dartmouth Community College, South East Essex College and the University of East London.

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A review by Nathan Brazil

'What is consciousness? Obviously it's made from the same quarks and electrons as everything else, perhaps just arranged in a different way. But consciousness is obviously something that can evolve."
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Proving that clever marketing works, even on jaded reviewers, came when I was enticed to pluck this title off the shelf of my local book store. What had grabbed my attention were the edges of the pages, which were dyed black. A simple ploy, but one I hadn't seen before, and then the book was in my hand. Fortunately, the blurb was even more enticing, outlining the adventures of graduate student Ariel Manto, as she finds a rare and possibly dangerous old book, also called The End of Mr Y. The story is told mostly in the first person, by Ariel Manto, as seemingly by chance she discovers an extremely rare book, in a store she would never have found if her car wasn't stuck in the car park of the university where she works. Is it serendipity, or just coincidence, that the book is a fabled tome, which she had read about but never expected to see in person? The work, which is a supposedly true account, disguised as a novel, is by an obscure Victorian novelist named Thomas Lumas, whose body of work Ariel is familiar with due to the fact that he is one of her main dissertation subjects. The mystery surrounding The End of Mr Y, is what enticed her into the world of academia. The book, it is rumoured, comes with a curse: "Those who read this are doomed to die." It is at this point that readers who never walk under ladders might get a little queasy, wondering if they're for the chop. But fear not, there are only a few selected quotes from Lumas's deadly work.

Ariel's life is not ideal. Her professor, (one of the few men ever to have owned a copy of The End of Mr Y), has vanished, she's having a sordid affair with an older married man, and she lives is an unheated flat, with a suicidal closet gay German for a neighbour. If this doesn't sound like much fun, you'd be right. Except, the book is now in Ariel's hands, and curse or no curse, she cannot resist reading. When she finds that a single, vital page, is missing, it stumps her progress until it too lands in her lap, via another of those synchronous events without which few works of fiction would ever proceed. Once Ariel has the missing information, things really kick into high gear. What Lumas discovered, was a way to access another dimension. Not in a physical sense, but rather through journeys into the sub-conscious mind of the individual voyager, and via the minds of others, back in the real world. Journeys, which can apparently be in both space and through time. Lumas named this Matrix-like world the Troposphere, and thought it was his private playground. In the many years since he died, (the presumption is that he became lost inside his own mind), others have discovered the existence of this Mindspace. Notably, an abandoned US military project, closed down when dozens of children died, which is now being surreptitiously continued by two rogue agents. As we piggy back along with the narrator, we find that the Troposphere is actually made from human consciousness, a collective as Jung postulated, which the authors, Lumas, Manto and Scarlett Thomas herself, use as an allegory for books; devices which allow access to the thoughts and beliefs of others. Along the way, we encounter the god of mice, Apollo Smintheus, a former priest called Adam, and a rather sinister pair of dead children. Sometimes the story veers slightly too far into the realms of intellectualism, with frequent references to Derrida, Heidegger and Baudrillard, but is always yanked back to less cerebral entertainment, which does not require a degree in philosophy to enjoy. Indeed, there are many clever, though-provoking questions posed by or to the central character; Did Einstein create relativity by thinking it in existence? What if it's the future that creates us not the past? And do all probabilities collapse into one definite reality on observation, or exist all at once, each within its own universe?

I enjoyed this book a lot, although moreso at the beginning than at the end. I would have preferred a deeper exploration of the darkness suggested by several plot elements, and an ending which lived up to my expectations. However, this is purely personal preference and does not detract from the overall quality on offer here. In summary, The End of Mr Y is a charmingly different work, which is well worth tracking down. Albeit at your own peril.

Copyright © 2009 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at www.inkdigital.org.


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