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on 30 May 2017
brilliant book
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on 25 May 2012
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.
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on 31 December 2012
Firstly, a word of warning. I loved this novel, and thought it the best new writing I'd encountered in quite some time. You may well hate it, for exactly the same reasons.
The unnamed central character has spent months in a coma after being hit on the head by "falling technology" - he can't (or doesn't want to?) remember what, and is additionally subject to a "gagging order" imposed by the lawyers of the unnamed organisation responsible for his accident. Having painstakingly re-learnt all of the activities of daily living (there's a good section involving a carrot), he is left with an out-of-court settlement for £8,500,000 and a deep sense of inauthenticity and spectatorship in his own life. He is mysteriously devoid of any close family (did they die in the accident, and could that explain his affectless state and moral anaesthesia? - just one of a myriad possible readings), and his remaining two friends in the world - including a nearly-old-flame female friend - soon become estranged to him as his mental state deteriorates and his social withdrawal intensifies.
At this point, he experiences an epiphany of sorts at a party to which his erstwhile best buddy has dragged him along in a misguided attempt to help him out of his doldrums. A crack in the bathroom wall induces powerful deja vu of a tenement building he may, or may not have, lived in at some point in the past. He then proceeds to blow his full eight and a half million (plus crazily escalating additional funds accruing from his investments in the dotcom "bubble") in increasingly bizarre and elaborate reconstructions and obsessive-compulsive re-enactments of this building and other events from his more recent past, aided and abetted by Naz, agent and Personal Assistant to wealthy celebs, and his company of "facilitators". Thousands of actors and extras are employed to re-create mundane scenes of frying liver and putting the rubbish out. However, this brings only temporary respite from his sense of unreality and detachment, and he turns to more and more violent re-enactments, ultimately leading to a bank heist that crosses the line between re-enactment and reality and, inevitably, goes violently "wrong" (or "right"?).
Whether you enjoy this or not will to a large extent depend on how much you are able to empathise with the two central characters, our unfortunate nameless (anti-)hero and his "facilitator" Naz. Like most readers but by no means all, I found the clearly insane, chillingly emotionless central character to be quite heartbreaking in his child-like sense of helplessness and his sense of being a bystander in his own life. The equally flawed character of Naz is just as fascinating, and as sympathetic in his way: why doesn't he question what he is being asked to do, as his client's requests become steadily more violent, insane and megalomaniac? While at first there's clearly an element of "the rich client is always right", by the end of the book Naz-as-Artist has become just as insane as his employer, helplessly lost in the sheer artistry of his own creations and well beyond the limits of the rational.
Like all the best books, "Remainder" is full of strong but ambivalent images and poetic ambiguities. It is clearly capable of a number of different readings. First and foremost, there is a clear Technology-is-Baaaaad, get-your-face-out-of-Facebook message going on here, a minatory parable of the dangers of modern society's increasing obsession with the Virtual and disengagement from the physical world. There are also all the deliberate open-ended questions with which McCarthy tantalises us. (Did the anti-hero die in his accident and are we in Purgatory? Is the Short Councillor who appears late in the book to pass third-party comment on our anti-hero's actions The Devil, or maybe McCarthy himself?) However, there is far more to this complex and original book than just dystopian allegory. McCarthy is clearly interested in deeper philosophical questions involving the uncertain nature of reality, the quest for "authenticity", the troublesome "thinginess" of the material world and the sheer bizarreness of the everyday. In this, he has a lot in common not just with Postmodernists writing in English such as Paul Auster, but even more so with the Oulipo school of writers in France. Georges Perec's masterpiece "Life: A User's Manual" is particularly relevant here, and it's worth noting that McCarthy spent time in Paris and that "Remainder" was brought out by a small arthouse Parisian publisher.
This is an ambiguous, uncomfortable but unquestionably powerful Novel of Ideas. A breath of cold, fresh air after most more conventional novels I've read this year. Love it or hate it, you're likely to have a strong opinion.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 7 November 2012
I knew nothing about this book when I started it. The less you know about it the better. It's an unusual & original book - intriguing, interesting, readable, absorbing, compelling, & with a likeable narrator. Now I have finished it I am not really sure what it was all about, however I feel very positive about it. A good book that's a puzzle to ponder. A well written and enjoyable puzzle.

OK, so that's not really much of a review is it? I believe that the less you know the better however if you need to find out a bit more before you decide whether to read it then, here you are....

...the book revolves around the idea of "re-enactment". The protagonist has plenty of money and a desire to keep replaying events. He starts by recreating a hazy, half-remembered memory of an apartment building. This involves getting people to play his neighbours, these include an old woman forever frying liver; a pianist practising; cats on the roof of the building across the courtyard; and a motorcyclist tinkering with his motorbike. This is just the start. After successfully re-enacting the apartment building the narrator's ideas become more ambitious and start to merge more closely with real events.

As the book's mysterious councillor reminds the reader towards the book's conclusion: "No less than one hundred and twenty actors have been used. Five hundred and eleven props -- tyres, signs, tins, tools, all in working condition -- have been assembled and deployed. And that's just for the tyre shop scene. The number of people who have been employed in some capacity or other over the course of all five re-enactments is closer to one thousand." He paused again and let the figure sink in, then continued: "All these actions, into which so much energy has been invested, so many man-hours, so much money -- all, taken as a whole, confront us with the question: for what purpose?"

For what purpose indeed? As I stated, I am not really sure what it was all about, however I found it beguiling and it sparked off many thoughts and ideas around memory, feelings, experience, time, and life. I'd say that was pretty good for a 286 page novel.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 6 October 2009
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.
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on 11 September 2007
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.
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on 24 March 2015
In the run-up to McCarthy's recent Satin Island, I thought I'd revisit his debut avant garde piece. Like all seminal fiction, it doesn't feel a day old and while I have my reservations on its repeat value, it's a confident, original performance on the written page that deserves soaking a few of your mortal hours in.

In a post-coma world, one man tries to recreate the pre-coma normal consciousness of an experienced moment. He has come into a sizeable settlement from the accident of 8.5 millions and he wants to pump it into recreating the taken-for-granted moment-to-moment perception-and-sensation loaded reality. It's his key to feeling real once again.

It's a thoroughly imaginative semantic exercise: in our protagonist's expositions to the baffled hearers of his scheme, we hear him articulate notions of fluency and fluidity of moving through the world as the one thing that separates his new, detached, learned-but-contrived self from the people around.

This deeply felt void of consciousness leads him to kickstart a series of re-enactment experiments where we see him trying to recreate whole physical environments to simulate random pre-and post-accident events from memory. With an almost inexhaustible stash of funds, he manages to mobilise a battalion of actors, designers, property developers, construction crew to actuate his schemes and the rest of the book chronicles his frustrations at getting these experiments just right, just real enough. He is seen moving himself and his employed army in that crepuscular zone between enacting and living, as he becomes obsessed with the idea of embodiment.

This deranged enterprise, while on one level hilarious in laying bare the endless possibilities with cash in hand in today's world, is at another level achingly tragic as we see this one man's bottomless thirst to recreate a moment of rapture that for us, i.e. normal, neurologically intact readers would be a disposable everyday moment. When you read him wax eloquent about this instant as a tingling rising from the base of spine, usurping the whole body and rendering it weightless, then spreading its "edges out until it became a still pool swallowing everything up in its contentedness", your empathic self can't help but be exalted in the narrator's abstraction, be edified by the the relativism in spiritual currency and be completely convinced about all his actions to achieve this transcendental climax in an Everyday Instant.

Other than the take-a-bow-worthy subtextual and textual density, the beautiful juxtaposition of neurological rehabilitation of motor control with a philosophical enquiry, it's disappointing that the same multi-level syntactical and thematic synaesthesia that enthralls you also drags the book down in its later pages as the narrator develops a moment-creation fetish and keeps his comfortably-facilitated and funded affairs going and going. You empathise with the aphrodisiac effect for this irreparably broken man of that intact apogee of consciousness called the Moment, but the particularities that are pursued in rigour and discipline of short, brick-like phrases to execute the giant experiments on the page do exasperate. By design, this is a challenging book to read, hence I give you my reserved recommendation, but the boundary-pushing work does provide many moments of sublimity and a taster for what makes McCarthy one of the best living contemporary authors.
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on 19 July 2006
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!
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on 28 October 2011
This is a strange book. A man has an accident that seriously injures him. The accident required him to learn activities that he's previously taken for granted. While in recovery he gets the sense that he (and his actions) are "second hand," and "distant" from "real life" in some way.

After his release into "real life" (and on the receipt of considerable compensation from the accident), he gets the urge to re-enact memories and incidents that he viewed as "real." As the book develops, the re-enactment get weirder and weirder. At one stage, for example, he wants to see a cyclists murder re-enacted. On another occasion, he has a tyre change repeated again and again.

The book's weird. I didn't really get it. I couldn't see the point of it if I'm honest. It's well written, it's just I found it hard to believe (oh and the compensation was far too low)
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on 17 April 2011
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.
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