The End of Mr Y by Scarlett Thomas
When Ariel Manto uncovers a copy of "The End of Mr Y" in a second-hand bookshop, she can't believe her eyes. She's read about its author before, the outlandish Victorian scientist Thomas Lumas, and this is his most notorious, and rarest, book. It is also believed to hold a curse. Anyone who's ever read it, including Lumas, has disappeared without trace.
Before reading this book I had never thought I would be interested in anything scientific. I don't have a mathematical or scientific mind in the slightest and always assumed these were areas where questions resulted in only one answer, comparing and contrasting them to interpretations of literature and art which normally result in long-winded philosophical answers or debates. This book showed me I was wrong about this, and also showed me that I actually am capable of having a grasp not only of quantum physics, post-modernist theory, and deconstructionist theory, but also that I am capable of understanding (to a degree!) the relationship between the three. My brain was (and still is a wee bit) fried.
Please don't be put off. It's written in a very gripping way; a cursed book within a book, a formula, a journey into the unknown. It is very difficult to describe the story in great detail without giving it all away, so I would urge anyone to read this.
I had a serious fancy for Ariel, the protagonist. She is scarily intelligent, loves old books, and makes living in poverty on only cigarettes and coffee sound so desperately glorious. Her determination to know and understand absolutely everything she comes across, scientific or artsy, is morbidly inspiring to me. She is also incredibly self-destructive which made her entirely engaging and I was able to relate completely.
Ariel finds a very rare and sought-after book in a second-hand book shop. The book leads her into another world, the Trophosphere, where she can access and travel through the minds of people and animals, reading their thoughts and memories. If something can be surreal, yet delicious at the same time, it is this adventure, and the ideas conveyed throughout.
Thomas talks largely of thought experiments, which I found really interesting, particularly as I had never been introduced to them before. Thomas drops various names into the novel, and rather than making me cringe, this made me respect her and gave me an intense desire to read the likes of Heidegger, Baudrillard and even Darwin. It is clear how intelligent she is, and I feel she perhaps may have manifested herself somewhere in Ariel.
Finding other worlds and stumbling across different dimensions are themes in books which always appeal to me (the faerie world in Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell springs to mind), so this book was just wonderful in my eyes. There is something so exciting about being in a place so different from the world you originally come from. The idea of travelling through time and space within minds is gorgeous; a world of metaphor and world of thought.
I really would recommend this. It can be read simply as a story, or it can be taken as a scientific, theoretical and philosophical work. The themes it explores are very, very deep and through-provoking. Although it can be disturbing in places, I think this is an underrated marvel.
7 / 50 books. 14% done!