Sunday, July 19, 2009

Book Review by Sally Bosco: The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas

This is a review of a book I truly love and think others would appreciate, too.

I’m always drawn to stories about parallel dimensions, and for that reason, The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas really caught my attention. Though the book is categorized as mainstream literary, it very much has science fiction and fantasy elements. This mind-meld of physics, metaphysics and literature is one of the few books lately that I’ve read obsessively to the end.

The voice of the narrator, Ariel Manto, grabbed me right away. She is a thirty-something Ph.D. student with a dysfunctional family background and a penchant for kinky, self-destructive sex. She loves obscure literature and philosophy and is doing graduate work on a little-known author named Thomas E. Lumas. As luck would have it, one rainy day she runs across a book of his, The End of Mr.Y, which is supposedly cursed. Ariel snatches it up using her expense money for the entire month and holes up to read the Victorian-era missive in her seedy cold-water flat. Though she is fearful of the curse that promises death to anyone who reads the book, she very much relishes the danger. Thomas does a wonderful job of letting the quirky and witty Ariel gradually unfold for us as the story progresses.

Ariel has already proven that she has an addictive personality with her chain smoking and sexual compulsions, so, naturally when the book tells her how to enter an alternate dimension called the Troposphere, she jumps at the chance and right away becomes completely addicted to it, much to detriment of her life and physical body.

Through the Troposphere, Ariel is able to enter into the minds of other people and animals. During her first time in that parallel universe, she enters into the mind of a mouse that is caught in a trap beneath her kitchen sink. She gets in touch with its anguish and suffering and on her return to her normal dimension, immediately finds it under her sink and releases it into the wild. After that, she has quite a bit of empathy for the suffering of animals, which figures into the resolution of the plot later on.

Complications arise when she begins to be followed by a couple of CIA agents who intend to use the Troposphere for their own evil purposes, which will end up with the enslavement of mankind. Since Ariel knows about it, she’s a dead duck. Her love interest, a celibate ex-priest, who is the opposite of what you’d expect for the kinky Ariel, helps her out in her endeavors. The odd ending is anything but predictable.

I found Ariel’s theories about the origin and workings of the Troposphere fascinating, but I’m kind of an alternate-reality geek, so others might find it a bit tedious. In this book, the alternate reality functions very much like a video-game with a console that comes up at crucial decision times, but one could surmise that the alternate reality somehow speaks to each person in a way he/she can personally understand.

Thomas has a wonderful way with language. Some of my favorite quotes from the book are: "… the sky is the color of sad weddings." And as a book lover I could relate to this quote: "Real life is regularly running out of money, and then food. Real life is having no proper heating. 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 a book; I'd give anything for that."

The End of Mr. Y is truly imaginative and weaves interesting theory in with the narrative. This is a smart book that completely engages the emotions, senses and intellect. It is definitely one of my favorite books of the past few years.

Sally Bosco

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