“The End of Mr Y” by Scarlett Thomas

Enjoyable romp through a refraction of the Zeitgeist of one imagined world, imagined hence real and representing the small academic froth of tropes that fluff up an otherwise weary world. Indeed, the latter signified by concrete imagery of roads, concrete, litter and general shabbiness that provide a ground for quick and dirty sex (worth anal-ysing but I don’t have time) fits well with the environs of a modern university building that collapses into a disused tunnel: not by accident the latter, for the tunnels like much else are metaphors, and like everything else wormholes through a narrative that questions its beginnings and ends and middles, a metanarrative, of course, about the narrative that does indeed end (perhaps consciously, I certainly hope so, ironically).

There are many references and earnest ponderings spinning from the Zeitgeist I refer to. The denoted references – such as Derrida, Heidegger, quarks – require no deep understanding for they are spelt out at the level of the narrative in their status as signifiers only (which is pretty convenient given the ambition of the novel’s metaphysical stance), and for what is required – basically that the world is made of concepts, language, trope and imagination – Hume, Kant and Wittgenstein would have done the job equally as well. The central image of the troposhere (a consciously explicit pun on trope) could equally well have been the noosphere. But it would be unfair  to spend too much time looking for all but the initial embarrassments that prefigure a youthful pseudo-earnestness that provokes a sustained engagement with a weightier philosophising.

For those like me able to engage on its ‘writerly’ level to a fairly minimal extent, it is a fun blend of mischief and reminders of the devious nature of story telling in our lives, and  over that blurred edge into what we call for convenience fiction. I have only one complaint here: a few sloppy references late on to how the protagonist realised that a sensuous impression was’ just’ a metaphor, and she wondered what it ‘meant’.

I’d guess that the writer does know to a large extent that she is writing for the person she once was, and affectionately dandles her readers’ excitements and enthusiasms. There is a further level of identification made possible which, to me, is not firmly enough delineated, one which makes a nonsense of the postmodernist relativism tripe that can pass a few hours in the bar, bed or various tropospherical dimensions that may amuse us. The narrator has been the victim of an abusive and emotionally violent father, and to a lesser extent of a mother who has her head in the clouds with new age mumbo jumbo, an abnegation of responsibility so often achieved by pseudo-innocence. Changing her name, the younger Ariel does, at least within the conventions of a classic realist text, go through a spectrum of depressive experiences including self-harm (more than a few hints of substance abuse are included which touch fleetingly on the possibility of the artificial paradise tradition) and vulnerability to male sexual predatoriness. Identity is always in crisis and unstable. I feel this level should have been more  that of a touchstone for the rest, down there with the shabby weariness of concrete buildings and urban flatness.

It is possible to read the ending ironically as I have said above. It is possibly a deeply sad ending. It may well be also that I am making far too much of things here. Unless you are even more wilted than me I think the overall playfulness and lightness of touch compensates for a certain looseness of structure (which no appeeal to the the text’s  concern with fluidity can dispel) and make this a gem of an excellent half-decent read.


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