The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas

A book review by Bobulous.

The End of Mr. Y tells the tale of a young writer called Ariel Manto, in her own voice, as she comes upon a book so rare that it is rumoured to be cursed. Reading it almost without stopping, Ariel begins to suspect that it's not a work of fiction, and that it is in fact a true tale about a man who is shown how to enter the world of human thought such that he can view life through the minds of others, seeing what they say, thinking what they think, and feeling what they feel.

Ariel is not put off by the threat of the curse, and goes ahead with her own attempt to enter the world of minds that the rare book calls the Troposphere. The instructions in the book work just as described, and Ariel finds herself able to enter the mind of any living creature. But the experience is profound and addictive, and Ariel realises that she's not the only person who wishes to keep returning to the Troposphere.

I didn't know what to make of The End of Mr. Y for the first couple of hundred pages. Until this point, it felt like it was setting the scene, putting the pieces into place. For a while I thought that the whole book was going to be insipid chick lit, then it threatened to be a promotion for homeopathic medicines, and then I was worried it was about to turn into a religious piece. Once Ariel enters the Troposphere and meets Apollo Smintheus, though, I realised that this was more like an online multiplayer RPG adventure written as a novel.

The Troposphere is a wild other-dimensional world with a set of bizarre rules and deities that reminded me of the world shown in The Matrix Reloaded. Each time Ariel enters the Troposphere, there's a risk that she won't make it back to her physical body, and moving around sometimes requires mental gymnastics and hidden portals.

While I felt that the pseudo-scientific philosophising was unnecessarily long in places, it was never too long before the story got back into action. And the story I enjoyed very much. The author has a very good descriptive writing style, nicely detailing the images and feelings of the settings that the characters find themselves in, whether the setting be a cold bedroom in a small London flat, or a train carriage hurtling away from the Troposphere through an infinite seam of fear.

The End of Mr. Y is a strange and enjoyable ride. It constructs an amusing model of shared human consciousness, and describes an often-explicit tale. Even the ending seemed fitting. I enjoyed reading The End of Mr. Y, especially as its themes tie in with the last several books that I've read. (The author even credits Big Bang by Simon Singh as an influence.)