Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Title:The End of Mr. Y
Author: Scarlett Thomas
Publisher: Canongate

Thomas Lumas had a certain reputation for the mind games played by his writing. With his career fading his last novel was published, The End of Mr. Y. Within days of completion, Lumas was found dead, shortly after publication his publisher was found dead. The novel gained a reputation of its own, all people who were associated, who read the book died. In the years since the book has pretty much vanished, with the rumour that there is one known copy in existence, in a vault somewhere in Germany.

Ariel Manto is aware of Lumas's work, one of a number of author's she has come across during her wild journies through thought experiments and literature. At a conference a professor gives a talk "The Curse of Mr. Y", having never read the particular book either, he talks about its reputation. When the other 3 people in the audience leave after the talk, Ariel finds herself talking to the professor, flirting, drinking, and eventually persuaded to become his PHD student. In the discussion the obvious question comes up - if you came across a copy of The End of Mr. Y, knowing it was cursed, would you read it? They both say that they would.

Ariel moves to the university town, lives in a grubby little flat, barley makes ends meet, shares an office with the professor. Then the professor vanishes. Gone. No trace. Ariel shrugs and gets on with it, until the building across the road collapses, forcing the university to close for a few days. Due to the danger, she is not allowed to take her car, so she is forced to try and work out how she can walk home in this town she doesn't know. She turns a corner, finds a second hand book shop, she can't resist looking. And there it is, in a box of mixed books, a copy of The End of Mr. Y. Dizzied by the find Ariel grabs it, takes it home and reads it.

The End of Mr Y follows Mr.Y to a sideshow, where he has a strange encounter - entering the Troposphere, a peculiar mind space, constructed from thought or something. Mr.Y seeks the formula for the potion which allowed him to enter this state, but to Ariel's horror the page that delivers the secret formula has been torn from the book. Though, somehow, people know she has the book, and they want it off her.

The End of Mr Y. is the seventh novel by author Scarlett Thomas, and her most ambitious work to date. With her Lilly Pascalle novels she dropped her lead character into an academic environment and then twisted it in a similar fashion to Mr.Y, in that case a trilogy of quirky crime novels. After her third novel Seaside (following Dead Clever and In Your Face), Scarlett changed publishers, and cranked her style up to a new level of hip contemporary literature through the steps of Bright Young Things, Going Out and the particularly memorable PopCo. PopCo, her last novel for Fourth Estate was the first where she started to explore her own interest in thought experiments, filling the work with a puzzle for the reader to work out.

The End of Mr. Y is published by Canongate, her first novel for her third UK publisher - the novel published earlier in the US, following new editions of the Pascalle novels. A genre busting piece of work - combining the fresh academic of the Pascalle novels, with the hip and cool that informed the following novels, with a dose of gothic victoriana, time travel and mind bending science fiction, alogn with a grain of social conscious. This is a great novel, one which is a lot of fun to read, and is a particularly nice piece in Canongate's hardback edition.

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