Thursday, February 15, 2007

Scarlett Thomas, The End of Mr. Y, 2006.

I read a review of this book in Salon, and was intrigued. It’s an interesting story, well-done (though falls down a bit at the end). A magazine writer becomes a Ph.D. student in English literature, taking a look at 19th century gedankexperimenten. Ariel stumbled into this life: she happened on a presentation about a book, The End of Mr. Y, by an author named Thomas Lumas—a book that is notorious as cursed.

Her supervisor disappears, leaving her somewhat at odds, and she just happens to find a copy of the book—and, despite the curse, reads it. Wackiness ensues as Ariel enters another world based on instructions that are part of the novel. As worlds collide, Thomas weaves together philosophy—quite the fan of both Heidegger and Derrida—and modern physics, not overly well but not too poorly, either. She sometimes loses both plot and characters, and gets distracted, because this book really is a novel of ideas—though she finds her way back to both.

It’s suspenseful, and it plays well with ideas about what language is, and what it does. It’s a fun read, made more fun by some familiarity with philosophy and science—and more fun still if you’re interested in a fascinating romance about what University life is like, filled with sex and intrigue. Ariel finds herself chased, in mortal danger at every turn, before coming to a solution that seems almost too easy but costs her dreadfully. It's a book worth its read.

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