9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Atmoshere of the bizarre
Tom McCarthy's Remainder occupies the same territory as Rupert Thompson's fascinating The Insult and is also reminiscent of the work of Paul Auster. A bizarre premise - in this case, a man left with no memory but an awful lot of money after an accident, who systematically seeks to re-enact actually experienced and/or imagined mundane scenarios - gradually comes to seem...
Published on 11 Sep 2007 by S. Lovat
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Black cats resting on red roof tiles
This novel was greeted by so much hype from the critics that I was dismayed on reading it to find it was full of substance, colour, light and energy but with a profound vacancy at its heart. On an ordinary day and to an ordinary man a terrible accident occurs that robs him of most of his memory. Only fragments of it return, but he is compensated for the accident (about...
Published on 6 Oct 2009 by Eileen Shaw
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Atmoshere of the bizarre,
Tom McCarthy's Remainder occupies the same territory as Rupert Thompson's fascinating The Insult and is also reminiscent of the work of Paul Auster. A bizarre premise - in this case, a man left with no memory but an awful lot of money after an accident, who systematically seeks to re-enact actually experienced and/or imagined mundane scenarios - gradually comes to seem artlessly plausible, due to the absence of affect in both the writing and the central character. His abstruse quest for the real in the patently artificial operates as a nice critique of what Jean Baudrillard calls the hyper-real, yet also offers a fascinating parallel with the spiritual meditative practice of "being in the moment" through mindfulness. The book most reminded me of Sebastian Beaumont's Thirteen, the story of a taxi driver who reaches into his own psyche not by obsessively repeating minute actions but by quite literally driving himself into exhaustion. Beaumont's "other world" is less polemical, but more darkly fascinating and plot driven, than McCarthy's. Thirteen is a Remainder with go-faster stripes. The two books have a different feel, and attempt different things, but both come highly recommended.
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The most original de ja vu,
Have you ever had a feeling of de ja vu where you wished you could grab that moment, cling on to it and relish its every detail, but no matter how hard you try, it's gone?
The narrator of Tom McCarthy's brilliant `Remainder' feels false and unnatural after recovering from an accident that has left him having to relearn his motor functions and a compensation package of eight-and-a-half million pounds. One evening he is struck by a clear memory of a time he can't specify, which evokes a feeling calm and fluid reality in him. He decides to utilise his newfound wealth in an attempt to recreate that precise moment, complete with the perfect building (which he has designed to his specifications by a set designer) and the neighbours he was conscious of in this flash of recall (played by actors which the narrator calls `re-enactors'). He repeatedly re-enacts his moments in an attempt to regain the feeling he was aware of in that moment of de ja vu. Our hero becomes obsessed with re-enacting: first incidents in which he featured, then incidents he witnessed (where he takes on roles as a `re-enactor'), finally, he creates an event of his own design and, after many rehearsals, puts it into practice in the `real' world, with violent and disastrous consequences and, in a rather neat way, a resolution for the narrator.
McCarthy's protagonist is insane; but sympathetic, cold; yet human. The novel's climax has an almost anti-climactic calm that left me bewildered and satisfied. It was so easy to fall into the mindset of the hero, that I have found myself grasping at moments of de ja vu with a fresh vigour. It strikes me as a book about our perceptions of self, reality... and perhaps narrative. There is such a depth to this novel that it deserves re-reading and I look forward to returning to this moment of enjoyable engrossment again... and probably again...
This novel has a really edgy intelligence to it and it has the smell of cult classic wafting from its binding - read it now, before everyone else does!
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Black cats resting on red roof tiles,
This novel was greeted by so much hype from the critics that I was dismayed on reading it to find it was full of substance, colour, light and energy but with a profound vacancy at its heart. On an ordinary day and to an ordinary man a terrible accident occurs that robs him of most of his memory. Only fragments of it return, but he is compensated for the accident (about which he can remember nothing) to the tune of eight million pounds.
The protagonist, who has a flat, affectless, totally amoral personality, perhaps as a result of his accident, becomes obsessed with recreating, first of all, moments from his past, and secondly, with new moments. And these are, literally, moments: coming down a staircase and seeing an old woman moving a bag of rubbish; listening to someone playing a piano; looking out of a window and seeing some black cats resting on red roof tiles - their very banality and the intensity with which he experiences them are puzzling and seem to lead precisely nowhere. We learn nothing about his life prior to the accident and he seems to have no family and a few friends, who, in any case, soon abandon him or are abandoned by him.
But then he becomes interested in recreating moments that have happened since the accident - and one of them involves a bank heist, during which things get a little more interesting.
Looking for a clue in the title, I wondered if the writer was trying to suggest something about the philosophical problem of memory itself, since any memory is changed by the act of remembering. He is trying to recreate himself by repeating images that in some way moved him or made him feel safe or contented, but he's doomed from the start, since what remains from repeating an action is a faraway echo of the original feelings. If I go back to the place I lived in as a child I do not become that child again, except, perhaps, in a fleetingly imaginative sense and one wonders how such a momentary effect could possibly be worthwhile. One of the most interesting facets of memory is how it is changed by what we invest in it - and that sometimes involves us in trying to understand more about ourselves as human beings than is ever entirely comfortable or easy. None of the insights our protagonist gains seem to give him much insight into his past. One quickly begins to wonder what the writer wants to convey. It seems muddled and muddied to me.
Tom McCarthy goes for amorphous effects unconnected to thought, such as a tingling in his arm when something seems authentic, and although his writing is the fine stuff of a highly literate practitioner, the novel ultimately dissolves in its own solipsism.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Left me cold,
Had an interesting premise and started well but I really felt it failed to deliver by the end.
The main protagonist was neither engaging or likeable. This was by design and an important part of the story, but the trouble was the story wasn't really engaging either (and the writing style was pretty standard). So as the book went on and the original set-pieces failed to deliver anything meaningful, it just began to feel like a bit of a drag.
Not a terrible book by any means but it wasn't good enough for me to recommend it to anyone as a worthwhile read.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars See things differently,
I have never read a book like this one. You cannot get it out of your head and it really does make you start to look at the world differently.
I read this on regular half-hour train journeys and, each time, when I arrived at the destination I didn't want to tear myself away from it. And when I did and finally stepped out into the Railway Station I viewed everyone in a completely different way and began seeing things previously unnoticed. No-one else around me seemed to be taking anything seriously - until I realised that everyone else was behaving normally and it was just me that had been reprogrammed. Another reviewer mentioned that the book `got under their skin' - it does just that. All of a sudden, every action, little task or movement takes on greater import.
The only disappointment was the ending, where the whole bizarreness just got to be a bit too much. But by that time the book had already altered my mind. It was too late for me.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Remainder,
"Well f*** off: it's the same book as it was two years ago." Was Tom ("the most galling interviewee in the world") McCarthy's response to the myriad publishers clamouring to acquire the rights to his much-rejected 'Remainder' after it became a cult success on the museum gift-shop circuit (I know, I'd never heard of such a thing either). This linguistically gauche up-yours to the literary establishment couldn't be more apposite, given that frustrated return and failed re-emergence are key among 'Remainder's multitude themes. Me, I would have gone for `look who's come crawling back', and launched verbose invective about not knowing what you've got when you've got it. But that's the difference between me and monsieur McCarthy: he can say more with a few words than I could articulate with an entire library; and that is why I love him, and why you should read this book.
Where to begin? - A pertinent question, seeing how Remainder starts somewhere towards the middle and casts a man without a past as its de facto hero. The book opens in medias res with a flash-back to our nameless narrator's "accident", which renders him comatose and, upon waking, amnesiac. "Bits of technology" have fallen from the sky to strike his noggin, and that's all we (and he) will ever know. Speculative attempts to identify the falling matter are ultimately rendered futile as McCarthy refuses to satisfy the reader (or his cast) with any definite answers; naturalistic readings may suggest parts of a plane or building are accountable, but the real import is found in the objects' metaphoric value. That's right: the technological junk that biffs our protagonist is, in fact, a great big symbol, and while McCarthy doesn't quite write `he was hit on the head by a falling metaphor', he may as well have: the book's opening being its least subtle passage. Whether you interpret the tumbling technology as representationally atavistic (technology is bad and look what damage it causes - let's get rid of it) or as social commentary (it destroys our memories and shortens attention spans) is up to the caprice of the individual reader - I prefer a more optimistic understanding which lifts the onus from crisis to opportunity ("crisitunity" - ©Homer Simpson) by freeing the protagonist from the burdens of past choices and the pressures of social conformity - as well as bestowing upon him a compensation pay-out of eight million pounds. Themes of communication and transmission are also invoked by the image of technology in free-fall (subjects echoed in McCarthy's later novel C) so, you know... look out for them as well.
Now incredibly wealthy but with no extant memories, Mr no-name assumes the mantle of that capitalist anomaly: the millionaire without history. He has no market loyalties or consumer tastes upon which to fritter his new-found riches. What he most wants is a past, but his recollections never return: instead he is tormented by manifest fragments of memories which take the form of random images of places (exclusively mundane: a bathroom, a hallway etc.) and people (a neighbour who puts out rubbish, a pianist who lived below him). His life his lived at a disconnect from "authentic experience" - obviously a trauma from his horrific accident. So, in an attempt to capture and make-real these tid-bits of a past, he begins spending his money on incredibly elaborate re-enactments; buying entire streets and buildings to re-mould in the image of his vague memories, employing `permanent' actors to play-out the roles of people he barely remembers, and hiring vast teams of professionals to ensure every minute detail is perfect. Every movement he makes is an anguish of a half-remembered past, and so he attempts to re-create a space in which his movements, thoughts and life are "real", unforced, and un-troubled by the spectre of deja vu; his ultimate goal being to produce a re-enactment so perfect and fluid that there is "no space between" the memory and the present, so he can "merge" with the moment and know a kind of happiness.
But obviously, the performative aspect of these re-enactments soon becomes a barrier to achieving a genuine, non-mimetic experience. His response is to create ever more elaborate sequences in an attempt to lose himself in the moment and forget the performative nature of his everyday experience. I won't spoil it, but suffice to say that the book's final re-enactment is something very special indeed.
'Remainder' got under my skin; the protagonist's border-line obsessive personality disorder began to resonate with my own daily experiences - especially after a long reading session - and simple tasks like opening the fridge door became, for me, unnervingly histrionic, as I couldn't divorce my everyday actions from a sense of constant repetition. But that's what the best novels do - get under your skin and into your thoughts, even after you've put them down- and for this alone I think the book is valuable.
With such a characteristically modernist premise, I was expecting a prose much more stylistically arch than I found in 'Remainder': the first person narration is clear and expressive, but (unlike many recent attempts at avant-garde fiction) isn't stylized to within an inch of its life. It's not perfect - occasionally the tone approaches near Amis (the younger) levels of self-satisfaction on the smug-o-meter, never more so than when McCarthy is stuffing the narrative with literary references (Ulysses, T.S. Elliot, Ezra Pound, Dickens etc. etc). Similarly, some readers may be frustrated by the explicit focus on repetition and re-enactment, which is almost David Foster Wallace-esque in its deliberate tediousness. But where the prose really sings is in the metaphoric landscapes McCarthy creates. In Remainder everything is a symbol or has an analogy (in structuralist terms (this is an attempt at modernism after all), you might say there's a disproportion between the signifiers and signifieds). A striking example of this can be found early, when the nameless hero stares into a crack instead of a mirror on a bathroom wall. The crack, as metaphor, probably offers a more accurate reflection of our protagonist than any mirror could. It functions as a visualisation of his mind and analogy for his missing memories. This becomes even more explicit later on, when all his attempts to re-create the crack are frustrated and problematic. I suppose `the crack that can't be filled' offers an external microcosm for his internal torments.
'Remainder' is successful at challenging both social and personal notions of harmony by asking the fundamental question: are we more than the sum of our memories? In stripping his protagonist of history, McCarthy creates a man who feels inauthentic yet becomes self-obsessed; his desperation to identify and find a sense of himself becomes an addiction: as he keeps telling us - his re-enactments aren't art - they're his life. Thus Remainder exposes a dominant cultural discourse; one which renders all our actions fundamentally performative and repetitious. The individual's struggle against these notions and his quest for a sense of authentic individualism is just about as perfect an expression of the modernist agenda as you're likely to find. It's a strange, very funny (and equally disturbing), beautiful book. Zadie Smith believes that it points to the future of English Literature: and while I'm not quite as optimistic, I think Remainder will be remembered as something that stirred the pot. As for its place in modern `Literature'; well, it's a tiny but bright star in an otherwise dull and mundane sky. Read it. Read it now.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars good work,
This is the kind of book that having read it keeps coming back to mind. I'm not quite sure why but it has the quality of somehow altering your perspective on the world for a short while. For that alone its definitely worth a read.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 21st century classic,
It took me a few pages to get into this debut novel, but it's not long before the narrator's damaged, compelling perspective wormed its way into my thinking and didn't let go. I found this book genuinely different to anything I've read recently in contemporary fiction -- different in type, and superior in quality. As a reader I felt akin to the novel's secondary characters, in that I was sucked into the nameless narrator's world not entirely with my consent. I was with him as he led me through an apparently harmless fascination with "re-enacting" old memories, with him as he raised the stakes with increasingly perilous memory re-constructions, and with him at the novel's blistering close, where his obsession leads to a truly chilling climax that must rate as one of the most original conclusions to a story I've ever read. The cover of this book is bespattered with high praise from every broadsheet and literary magazine under the sun, which normally makes me run for the hills, but for once I'm in agreement with the hype.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Depends how you read it,
Judging by most of the reviews that have already been written for 'Remainder', it seems to be a simple case of you get it or you don't get it, you like it or you don't like it. Rather than attribute this to the author, I think the burden of proof lies in the reader.
I read the book in one sitting and I must admit, it played with my mind a little. I didn't start re-enacting events, but it effectively isolated me from normal human intercourse when I emerged from my room. What the book does is re-wire the expectations of the average reader, since the events that take place are not the same as in a 'normal' novel. Naturally, if the reader comes to the book having read the glowing reviews about the unconventionality of 'Remainder', they may well be disappointed when they realise that it isn't hugely different. What McCarthy does do effectively is to liberate the wandering mind and give in to innate human characteristics such as curiosity and whim. Thus, the plot breaks down into events that appear to go nowhere, but the overall analysis of the desires of the human mind is sound and, for the most part, intriguing and revealing. Recommended for the casual reader.
5.0 out of 5 stars Read this book.,
An excellent story, one which is out of the ordinary and subtly insightful. Utterly relevant to 'modern' life and written in such a way that at no point does it feel tiresome.
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Remainder by Tom Mccarthy