A while back, a copy of Scarlett Thomas’ (no relation) novel The End of Mr. Y arrived on my desk. I sent out some queries to my book editors, and then went back to my reading. After being assigned other books, then that one sat on my shelf. And finally I secured a block of time to read only for my pleasure, and so Thomas’ book found a place amongst my traveling books earlier this year. I’m very thankful it did.
On the surface, The End of Mr. Y is a suspense novel along the lines of, and I hate to say it, The Da Vinci Code. (Although Nicholas Christopher, author of The Bestiary which was also compared to The Da Vinci Code, considers the comparison a benefit, for if it brings new readers who would decry it?) This is only underscored by the marketing tag line If you knew this book was cursed, would you read it? There’s nothing wrong with a page-turning story, but the writing has to be there, too. So I admit another surface element helped convince me to give it a shot–Jonathan Coe’s endorsement that “Not only will you have a great time reading this book, but you will finish it a cleverer person than when you started.”
Thomas’ novel is impressively expansive, touching on thought experiments, literature, quantum physics, relativity theory, science, and even homeopathic medicine–all in an intriguing, accessible, and never preachy narrative that is almost painful to abandon for a cool pillow and closed lids. Literature lovers will be easily engaged from the start by the discovery of a rare, believed to be destroyed text that the protagonist Ariel Manto stumbles upon at an out of the way booksellers. But what happens after this find, and where Manto herself travels through a strange elixir recipe included in its pages, will have others bound to the book’s truly provocative exploration of the power of our thoughts to literally shape and create our world.
The End of Mr. Y is utterly entertaining, perception-changing literary brilliance. It’s sad to accept how long it sat unread in my living room, and that no editors accepted my previous suggestions for a review.
Here’s a taste, just to get you started:
“You now have one choice.
You…I’m hanging out of the window of my office, sneaking a cigarette and trying to read Margins in the dull winter light, when there’s a noise I haven’t heard before. All right, the noise–crash, bang, etc.–I probably have heard before, but it’s coming from underneath me, which isn’t right. There shouldn’t be anything underneath me: I’m on the bottom floor. But the ground shakes, as if something’s trying to push up from below, and I think about other people’s mothers shaking out their duvets or even God shaking out the fabric of space-time; then I think, Fucking hell, it’s an earthquake, and I drop my cigarette and run out of my office at roughly the same time that the alarm starts sounding.
When the alarms sound I don’t always run immediately. Who does?”
—The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas; Harcourt 2006.