In Remainder, our narrator is a young Englishman traumatised by an accident which, while destroying his memory, has left him a very wealthy man. All he knows is something fell out of the sky and hit him, and someone very wealthy is willing to pay a lot of money to guarantee his silence about the event.
With no memories to tie him to the past and having remapped his brain to perform the most basic tasks, he obsessively tries to capture “real” moments – instances which feel fluid and natural rather than learned. He seeks the perfection achieved when he loses consciousness of and merges with his actions.
To help him achieve these moments of perfection, he spends his time and money obsessively reconstructing and re-enacting memories and situations from his past. He purchases a large building and hires actors to help match the setting to the remembered moment. When this fails to quench his thirst for authenticity, he starts reconstructing more and more violent events.
Tom McCarthy’s artistic eye is apparent in Remainder, translating into vividly described settings. The setting is as much a character as our nameless narrator. Readers are immersed in the setting which is invoked at such a visceral level that one feels the sunbeam warming one’s skin as the narrator lays in a sunbeam and smell the liver wafting through the ventilation system.
As McCarthy describes in an interview with ReadySteadyBook: “Trauma is intimately tied in with re-enactment: it brings about a compulsion to repeat…What excited me right from the crack-moment onwards was that the premise clearly had much wider implications: it was about history and time, simulation, questions of authenticity and, by extension, of our whole state of being-in-the-world. And it was about the world's state of being-in-the-universe as well: the world, matter, this shard left over from some unnameably violent disaster - a remainder.”
While the conclusion of Remainder is unsurprising, how McCarthy reaches it is unique. This is not a novel in the traditional sense, and it is not remarkable that traditional publishers were unwilling to take it on. McCarthy’s work will make many readers uncomfortable; yet within the progression of the narrator’s obsession the world he presents is terrifyingly plausible.
Publisher: Alma Books
Publication Date: September 2006
tags: books book reviews Tom McCarthy fiction first novel