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The End of Mr. Y: 01/18/17

The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas

When I read books, I mentally map them into my reading map; cities of books and movies — complex ones with numerous overlapping neighborhoods. I don't do this consciously, it just happens.

The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas resides in a neighborhood that contains Die unendliche Geschichte and The Thirty-Nine Storey Treehouse. But it's also at the intersection of Men Who Stare at Goats, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and Being John Malkovich and it's adjacent to the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series and down the street from Ringu.

The End of Mr. Y is metafiction about reading, perception, and epistemological explorations of existential crises. It takes apart reading, sensation and perception, and the basic building blocks of life, the universe, and everything, in a similar off the cuff way that Melville dives into whaling in Moby-Dick (if you don't skip all the tangential chapters).

At the heart of this book is the notion of the cursed artwork. There's always that one book, that one painting, that one play (looking at you, Scottish play), that one joke (Monte Python) that comes with a price. The highest price you can pay is your own life and that's what The End of Mr. Y requires of most of its readers.

Ariel Manto has been researching the life and times of Mr. Y's author, Thomas Lumas, a strange Victorian author whose career stagnated after this book. His most infamous novel is hard to come by. Ariel knows of one copy locked away in a safe.

Then the unexpected happens — one of the university buildings falls into a disused subway tunnel and temporarily knocks Ariel off on a different path. Just as Aomame in 1Q84 choses to leave her taxi and the freeway, Ariel choses a different path on the way home. Though she gets lost, she finds a bookshop and it contains to her immense surprise, a copy of The End of Mr. Y.

Now when you find a cursed book, do you read it? Of course you do.

But to read it, Ariel has to give up her entire monthly budget. She can't eat. She can't smoke. She can't heat her home. Thus before even opening up the book, she has fallen into the clutches of the book's curse.

I'm not going to describe what she sees or how the book affects her. All of that is the back half of this weirdly wonderful volume. Thank you to Joel Ross for recommending it to me. I have a copy of Our Tragic Universe by Scarlett Thomas to read soon, also recommended by Joel.

Five stars

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