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Scarlett Thomas, The End of Mr. Y

Book cover

Book cover of "The End of Mr. Y" by Scarlett Thomas

A while ago, I read PopCo, also by Scarlett Thomas, and I found it a fantastic read. It had a compelling and believable story and it gave me lots to think about, which is basically all I need from a book. I was therefore looking forward to reading The End of Mr. Y. I’m afraid I didn’t quite like it as much.

Partly that is because the story doesn’t really make a lot of sense, avoids  interesting questions and answers others the wrong way. The book is about a place, called the Troposhere or Mindspace, which is generated by the shared subconsciousnesses of all animals, or at least all mammals. Whether fish/bacteria are included as well isn’t mentioned. The space is entered via a homoeopathic concoction that was first discovered by the writer of a fictional book with the same title as this book.

The Troposhere looks different for anyone who enters it, and anyone who does can use it to infiltrate the minds of people or animals without their victims knowing it. Once a mind is entered, the minds of beings close to that person or animal can be entered as well, and by close we mean all kinds of close. This way, even dead relatives’ minds can be entered and time travel is also possible. Several time travel paradoxes are created but remain unresolved with phrases like “time doesn’t work that way”. I find that disappointing.

The main character, Ariel Manto, reads the book, brews the potion and enters the Troposphere. She meets a mouse god, a being who is generated by the combined praying of a small sect somewhere in the U.S. Later in the book, we find that the Christian god is created the same way, but he is a lot more powerful since power is determined by the number of people doing the praying. The mouse god protects her from two renegade American secret agents who need a monopoly on the Troposphere’s usage to use it as a weapon and therefore try to kill her. When she learns how to, she simply changes their minds, while she take refuge in a church. The agents can’t enter the church, but it remains unclear why. In fact: as commenter Sabina explains, there is an explanation as to why they can’t enter the church. I seem to have missed it.

In the first half of the book, there is a scene in which Ariel needs to access files on a computer that she can’t login to because she doesn’t have the password. This computer is going into storage within ten minutes, but she doesn’t know what she is looking for on it. The solution to this problem is easy, if you know what’s going on. Just take out the hard drive and put it in your own computer so you can access it from there. Instead, she asks someone from the computer department to reset the password, puts the My Documents folder on her iPod and hopes she has the files that she needs.

This is not terribly important, but illustrative as the same thing happens to the supposedly interesting discussions that follow on more substantial subjects. At some point in the story, Ariel makes a case that either God has triggered the universe or there must be multiple universes. She derives this from the fact that the original Big Bang-particle must have been a normal particle to which quantum physics applied. It didn’t. Basically, quantum physics only applies to small things, while Einstein’s relativity only applies to big things. The Big Bang particle is where both theories must come together (small particle, big mass) so both theories break down. The same happens in black holes. The entire discussion that proceeds from this point ignores that and is therefore useless.

There is also a discussion between a geneticist and a theologian about science (evolution, Big Bang)  versus myth (creationism, I.D.) which ends in the theologian claiming that you can’t really prove anything, so scientific theories are just as meaningless as myths. This is presented as a proper philosophic stand point, but is in fact nothing more than a cheap creationists’ trick known as solipsism. What the theologian basically says is this: my world view and my observation do not correspond, so I adapt my observation. The geneticist should have seen through this.

Subjects are discussed and dropped without reaching a satisfying conclusion. Characters in the book theorise about machine code, which exists more or less in the way they describe it, but I can’t determine if Thomas knows that, because she makes mistakes. She makes the age-old mistake that the most basic form of information in computers is ones and zeros. It’s not, it’s electrical currents that are interpreted as ones and zeros. Since in the same discussion electrons play a different role from the binary digits, the discussion is flawed.  I could go on. There are many examples in the book that sound smart but really aren’t.

Ariel goes back in time to free the first generation of lab mice and in the end prohibits the book from being written in the first place. By then she has a companion, Adam, who has already died by staying too long in Ariel’s head and starving, but he is still alive in the generated shared consciousness. This is neither logical nor explained.

In the end Ariel and Adam travel throughout the Troposhere, get to the end and enter a nice garden with a tree and a river. Then the books ends with Ariel saying “And then I understand”. Understand what, exactly? At the end of consciousness there is Eden? What does it mean?

Not very good.


Categorised as: books


2 Comments

  1. Sabina says:

    Agreed. However, I feel I need to point out that she did indeed (though vaguely) explain why one can’t enter a church when in Mindspace.
    The kids in the agents’ minds would’ve been ‘bounced out’ because of all the ‘charge’ inside the church.

  2. thefoggiest says:

    I think I missed that, but you’re right, and within the book’s logic that more or less makes sense. Thanks!