Scarlett Thomas: Thought experiments

Scarlett Thomas: Thought experiments

<p>It all starts with a book. Wayward postgrad Ariel Manto, juggling her PhD on thought experiments and a desultory affair with a married man, is astonished to locate in a secondhand bookshop a rare copy of<em> The End of Mr Y</em> by obscure Victorian writer Thomas E Lumas. The book, it is rumoured, is cursed&mdash;but, of course, that will not stop Ariel avidly reading it, though you would have thought she would know better given that her supervisor, also a Lumas fan, disappeared without explanation several months before.</p><p>This is the starting point for Scarlett Thomas&#39;<em> The End of Mr Y</em> (Canongate, July), an original fantasy adventure that propels Ariel into a parallel universe; it is also a thought experiment of its own, which debates the relationship between language, thought and matter in the vein of Derrida and Baudrillard. </p><p>&quot;<em>Mr Y</em> is very much an adventure story,&quot; Thomas says. &quot;I want people to be turning the pages, going: &#39;Oh my God, are they going to catch her?&#39; At the university [she teaches creative writing at Kent], I always say to students that the key thing is to write about what is important to you, but you don&#39;t have to do it in a boring way. The toughest thing when I&#39;m writing novels is to create a genuinely cause and effect-based, page-turning novel&mdash;it&#39;s like a puzzle. A lot of fiction is about getting from A to B in a plausible manner, but with this novel I was sitting in my office at the university, going: &#39;So Ariel has to time travel now. How the hell am I going to get her from B to A in a plausible manner?&#39;&quot;</p><p>Thomas also draws on theories from Stanislavsky, founder of method acting, for her characters, such as the intellectually ambitious, sexually promiscuous Ariel. &quot;What Stanislavsky says is that we all want one overall thing, a &#39;superobjective&#39;--it might be comfort, or security, or love, or freedom. Once you understand that about a character, you realise that people drive differently, wear different things in bed, and walk the dog differently, depending on what their superobjective is. </p><p>&quot;Ariel&#39;s much more sexual than any character I&#39;ve written before, and you could write about a character who has slightly degrading sex and it could be very negative, because they don&rsquo;t care about themselves. But with Ariel, she&#39;s trying to transcend her body and live in the mind, so she doesn&#39;t really care about her body and she acts accordingly. I didn&#39;t feel sorry for her because I felt she had a higher aim. Ariel&#39;s superobjective is: &#39;I wish to know everything.&#39;&quot;</p><p>It&#39;s an ambition her author says she shares. &quot;I&#39;m very much someone who wants to work out the answers. I want to know what&#39;s outside the universe, what&#39;s at the end of time, and is there a God? But I think fiction&#39;s great for that--it&#39;s very close to philosophy.&quot;</p><p>Absorbed in the world of ideas is where she is often at her happiest: &quot;At the moment the philosophy department [at Kent] has got a reading group and we&#39;ve just started<em> On Grammatology</em> [by Derrida], so I&#39;m re-reading that. The best day I had recently was when I switched off my email, sat down to read the chapter I had to read before 8 p.m. that evening, put some dissonant music on the stereo in my office and just read and thought, read and thought, completely lost in the world of the chapter: &#39;So, if deconstruction is like being in a house you&#39;re destroying while you&#39;re inside it, what would that mean?&#39; It was wonderful.&quot;</p>