I had to use some Year 10 art perspective tricks to get The End of Mr. Y as small as possible, because it’s one of the ugliest books I’ve ever bought. Luckily, it’s a really good book, so you can just ignore what it looks like, and pretend it’s got a big dripping ice cream cone on the front or something.
Reading The End of Mr. Y is like hanging out inside the head of that girl at university who gave you the shits because she seemed so self-possessed, clever and well-read. She always knew what Derrida was on about, was never intimidated by Heidegger, and had read all of Ecrits on her own in a cafe over tea, because despite her wealth of intelligence, tea was all she could afford. (I actually went to university with about eleven versions of this exact person.) All these traits describe the novel’s main character Ariel, a PhD student who is feeling a little bit bewildered as her supervisor, Saul Burlem, has just mysteriously gone missing. Adding to that, her university has closed down because one of the buildings has collapsed. She is on her way home when she finds a copy of ‘The End of Mr. Y’ by Thomas E. Lumas in a secondhand bookshop. This is exciting news for our girl because the subject of Ariel’s PhD is thought experiments, that is, breakthroughs in conceptualising complex ideas based on metaphor or hypothesis (see Schrödinger’s cat), and Lumas is one of her passions. So the idea of finally acquiring the novel, which is extremely rare and, according to legend, cursed, is a bright light in her gelid, lentil-eating life.
Ariel fits the mould of my favourite heroines, who are characterised by a unique effectiveness which in their circumstances seems to be flailing about in the wind. Because or as a result of this, they exist at odds with common social agendas such as wealth and sociability, and of course the acceptability which flows from these agendas evades them as well. Though she’s socially adequate, and intellectually more than adequate, Ariel’s liminality is clearly writ: she has no parents, no money, and few personal attachments other than the occasional kinky sex partner. She loves knowledge and books and ideas more than anything. I guess the reason why I like this kind of heroine so much is that successful resolution for their stories always needs a lot of authorly thought, and Ariel’s story is resolved for me in a very satisfactory and poignant way.
Sorry to be so non-specific, but the book has a slow reveal and I don’t want to ruin anything for you. (Don’t, for example, read this review/essay before you read the book.) It’s safe to say, though, that Thomas has created a thought experiment of her own.
The End of Mr. Y elicited lots of ‘wows’ from me. I loved this novel’s thick ambition and proprietary confidence: there are so many ideas packed into The End of Mr. Y that occasionally I had to shake my head to clear it. Though it approaches unwieldiness (and even silliness) at times, the narrative is always engrossing. Kudos, too, to Thomas for creating a great (the first?) philosophy adventure novel. (Sophie’s World doesn’t count.) I mentioned Derrida and Heidegger earlier, and their work is mentioned so often in the novel that they are basically secondary characters. It’s clear that Thomas is fascinated by their ideas about simulacra, meaning and language, because she puts these ideas to wild and astonishing work: Ariel discovers that ‘The End of Mr. Y’ certainly deserves its mysterious reputation, because it describes a parallel dimension where a person can read another’s thoughts. Many serious hijinks of all-encompassing importance ensue, and they are a credit to the scope of Thomas’ imagination.
In a word: yes.