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

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

Through the Troposphere, Ariel is able to enter into the minds of other people and animals. Her first time in the parallel universe, she delves into the mind of a mouse that is caught in a trap beneath her kitchen sink. She experiences first-hand its anguish and suffering and, on her return to the normal dimension, immediately releases it into the wild. Subsequently, she is attuned and empathetic to the suffering of animals -- which becomes a key plot point later in the novel.


Complications arise when Ariel is followed by CIA agents who intend to use the Troposphere for their own evil purposes (in this case, the enslavement of mankind). Since she's in on the secret, Ariel is a dead duck. Her love interest, a celibate ex-priest, (the opposite of what you'd expect for the kinky Ariel), helps her out of the predicament -- but the end is anything but predictable.

I found Thomas' 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. My favorite quotes include: "... 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 with narrative. It's a smart book that completely engages the emotions, senses and intellect, and it's definitely worth a read. (Pictured: Scarlett Thomas, author of The End of Mr. Y).

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I'm always drawn to stories about parallel dimensions, so The End of Mr. Y really caught my attention. Though the book is categorized as mainstream literary, it's riddled with science fiction and fantasy elements. This mind-meld of physics, metaphysics and literature makes it one of few recent books that I've read obsessively to the end.

The voice of the narrator, Ariel Manto, grabbed me right away. The thirty-something Ph.D. student with a dysfunctional family background has a penchant for kinky, self-destructive sex, loves obscure literature and philosophy, and is doing grad work on the little-known author, Thomas E. Lumas. As luck would have it, one rainy day she runs across his book — The End of Mr.Y — which is purportedly 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 fearful of the curse that promises death to all who read the book, Ariel relishes the danger. Thomas does a wonderful job of letting her quirky and witty heroine gradually unfold for us as the story progresses.

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