Book review: The End of Mr Y, by Scarlett Thomas

theendofmryWow! This book is a rollercoaster read. I finished it, then started reading it again immediately. It blew my mind.

I’ve just read it again for a third time, and felt compelled to write something. I want to evangelize on behalf of Ms Thomas and spread the word about this book.

The book doesn’t start out too well. Nothing terribly interesting happens on the first page (or rather, it does, but the narrative downplays it), and the voice doesn’t really get you into the head of the protagonist. But stick with it, because things really start to pick up after a few pages, and it doesn’t take very long at all before the book is fully up to speed.

It starts out as a gripping mystery story, split between a contemporary character – a researcher in a university – and an Edwardian writer. The mystery revolves around a cursed book (everyone who reads it dies), a disappearing professor, a sinister doctor at a circus and recipes involving holy water and other arcane ingredients. The mystery draws us in, deepening and deepening, until wham! the book transforms into something totally unexpected and mind-boggling.

Yes, quantum physics is here, as well as circus acts, dangerous books and time travel. There’s also romance, transgressive sex, thought experiments, armed killers, and religion. There’s a lot of philosophy too. You name it, it’s here, and yet it works. The narrative is strongly rooted in modern science, although it veers perilously close to the edge from time to time. The female protagonist has a strong, compelling, immediate way of narrating the story, helped by the use of first-person present tense. It’s a hugely imaginative tour de force!

The ending probably isn’t what you expect, but by the time you’ve got some way into the book, you’ve probably given up on any expectations you might have had. Just go with it. Give the book a try and see what happens. What’s the worst that could happen? It’s just a book!


Originally published at

7 responses to “Book review: The End of Mr Y, by Scarlett Thomas

  1. Sounds like it has the same appeal as “Possession” by A.S. Byatt, an excellent book by another fine British writer. (I can’t get away from your Brit writers.)

  2. Talk about tantalising! Posting this after the bookshop is closed!

  3. Sounds intriguing. If I didn’t have a huge pile of books waiting in my queue, I’d order it right away. But I’ll come back to it if I ever get my reading done.

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