book-reviews

The End of Mr. Y

by Scarlett Thomas

Rating: ★★

It's not that I don't like the concept. An academic deep-diving into some ancient niche text? Great, fine. A thought experiment about astral projection? Equally acceptable. Even the bits about having degrading sex for ill-defined reasons and money could be interesting. The problem with Thomas' book is none of the content, except perhaps the irritating French solipsism. The problem is that it tries too damn hard.

I like references. I like big concepts. So I should enjoy discussions of simulation hypotheses and quantum effects and the like. But Thomas' treatment of all her subject matter is off-putting, like she's literally typing it out of a description she read online somewhere, then doing the literary equivalent of waving her hands and saying 'spooky'. Very little of it feels at all connected to the plot, it's just the main character rattling off something the author thinks sounds cool.

Which would all be easier to forget if this was window-dressing for something more fully developed which could hold your focus. But it isn't. The central conceit that the entire book revolves around works through what is essentially authorial fiat. Our heroine just so manages to make the steps through the human network that take her where and when she wants to go. The rules reshape themselves as the plot develops. There's nothing to this 'troposphere' to deserve the fascination of the novel, so it ends up all being about the main character. Who, while mildly interesting, does not have so rich a story that it merits the attention. Inexorably, too, this becomes a sort of romance.

I feel like The End of Mr. Y is a book that a lot of people will attempt to read as significant, because it is disjointed and refers to a number of philosophical concepts. But it isn't. It's a humdrum thriller with a nonsensical device that ties it to a solipsist understanding of reality. Where it isn't dull, it is mostly irritating. A couple of fun scenes are most of what is to be had here.