The End of Mr. Y

I finished a book a couple days ago called The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas. All in all, it conveyed a sense of self-awareness pretty sparse amongst popular science fiction (the genre I would classify it as). The prose is light and easy even when the subject matter is complicated, and the characters carry you through the beginning. The plot at first conveys a slow and steady atmosphere, but it picks up about half way through and takes you the rest of the way.

The book centers on Arial Manto, a phD student in the UK studying under Professor Burlem, a normal, intelligent English Professor. Ariel’s phD concerns the relationship between science and literature in the late 1800s to the mid 1900s, and so her interior monologue often deals with Schrodinger’s and Einstein’s thought experiments as well as philosophy from that time.

I knew from the beginning that the book itself, like the dangerous book within the novel that the title borrows from, is a thought experiment, but the exactness of the proposed experiment remains a mystery until the end, when Ariel uncovers the semi-scientific basis behind the previous events in the story.

The book begins several months after Professor Burlem has disappeared, leaving Ariel to continue her phD research without any guidance or supervision. The book at the center of Ariel’s phD is The End of Mr. Y by Lumas, which was published around 1900, deemed cursed, and then vanished completely except for one known copy. Through luck and internal plot logic that the reader finds out about later, The End of Mr. Y falls into Ariel’s hands. Lumas’s story leads her to a potion that transports a person’s consciousness to a trippy, mind space called the Troposphere. From the Troposphere, Ariel can enter anyone’s mind that is in close physical proximity to her body.

The book’s main goal is to get the reader to ponder what “thinking” is and how it interacts with the physical world. If quarks and electrons compose everything in the world, then they compose thought processes too; if thought is made of the same thing as everything else, then can thought interact with and change the physical world?  Obviously these are all conjecture, but the book questions what would happen if people’s thoughts all added together to created a physical realm outside of our own. Which is the basis for the book’s thought experiment. If we lived in a world where a Troposphere existed, what would it mean for time, matter, quantum mechanics, and scientific theory?

So, mix an interesting idea in with a basic knowledge of current scientific study, add fun prose and sex that develops characters, and you get The End of Mr. Y. Even if you don’t finish the whole thing, the philosophy that layers the prose and interior monologue makes what portion you get through worth it. And if you do make it to the end, Scarlett Thomas wraps it all up with an explanation for the existence of everything.

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