“The End of Mr. Y” (Scarlett Thomas): Review continued

Well, I’m halfway through this book now, which I initially commented on in Christmas Books. I’ve been reading it off and on in amongst other reading/writing projects, and I keep putting it down because I’m not sure it’s worth continuing. That might sound a little bit harsh, but it’s a horrible feeling to see great potential and be disappointed.

What’s got me right now is Thomas’ presentation of the Troposphere. Ariel keeps shouting “Console,” which is ‘something like a desktop’ and helps her navigate her way around. It seems to be halfway between Skymaze (children enter a computer game which they can play for real, with lethal stakes), a book by Gillian Rubinstein, which I enjoyed greatly as a child, and Insomnia, the Stephen King thriller where another dimension blurs with this one and only the two protagonists can see the dwarfish demon who threatens them and manipulate the energy of the world around them to try and defeat him. And I’m finding Thomas’ version nowhere near as enjoyable as these two.

Perhaps the strangely anachronistic language and vision we have of the Troposphere is postmodernly pastiche-like deliberately (I suspect this is the case), melding the Victorian literary aspect with Ariel’s rather typical brand of bleakness and all the science and technology references Thomas likes to throw in. Personally, however, I feel like this says more about the author’s pretensions* than about her writing skill.

To be fair, it may be the case that Thomas is trying to show the limits of language, and that we apply the best words we can to the unknown, even when they seem anachronistic. Ariel, the main character, does at one point note: “Nothing like this happened to Mr. Y. This must be the effect of TV and cinema and – not that I’ve played them often – video games on my weak mind”, so, indeed, maybe the author is trying to show something about subjectivity. However, I can’t help feeling that in this scenario arguing “it’s the limits of language” would be the argument given by an apologist covering for a weak authorial imagination, and claiming “it’s about subjectivity” is perhaps convenient after the fact but not a well-constructed, premeditated attempt. I genuinely believe Thomas could have imagined better; that’s why I’m feeling so disappointed with the read. And I won’t even begin to mention the “god” that appears when Ariel is told by the (typical) disembodied female voice that guides her in the video-game-like Troposphere that she can “play the Apollo Smintheus card”.

Naturally, I’ll finish the book, and my opinion may well change, but right now I have an eyebrow raised. I’ll keep you posted!

* On the topic of pretensions, I should probably say that one of the things I really do like about the book is the strange black colour given to all the page edges, so that from a distance the book appears to be a block of black something. This sort of colouring actually adds an air of tongue-in-cheek fun, whilst one of the things I loathe most is the seeming vogue now for publishers making the foredge of the book  ragged, as if to try and suggest real parchment or an old text when the top and bottom of the book will be perfectly machine-cut flat.


3 thoughts on ““The End of Mr. Y” (Scarlett Thomas): Review continued

  1. Yasmine says:

    I have read this book. It is excellent. Scarlett Thomas’ books are great. I have read all from first published. Each one gets more and more ambitious. I am unsure on whether she will be able to top ‘The End of Mr. Y’.

    She has not, allthough, released any information about books that she may be writing. I need a Scarlett fix.

    I like to read books that i have read once i forget the ending. Unfortunatly, i think it may be a while til i forget the end of My Y.

    • Dominique Gracia says:

      Ah, I’ll confess that I haven’t picked up this book really since I wrote this part deux review. I’ve read Paz and Frankenstein not-for-class (aka for fun) since then, though, so I get the feeling I’m not coming back to Mr. Y any time soon. Perhaps when I’m travelling in March and my thesis is done I’ll try and pick it up and finish it. It’s rather a shame to not have a final review up, after all!

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