Remainder, by TomMcCarthy, a British writer and artist, is a great reminder of how writing interacts with the world of art and its concern with space. Remainder, told in the first person, is a book about a man with amnesia who--as a result of an accident--gets over 8 million pounds as compensation on the condition that he never talk about it. He remembers nothing of his past. But--in a post-modern Proustian moment--goes to a friend’s bathroom at a party and sees a crack in the wall that begins to unfold into a memory of a particular apartment buliding in a courtyard. He sees cats on the roof. He hears a pianist practicing downstairs. He can smell liver because there is woman who lives downstairs and cooks liver and onions (hecalls her “the liver lady”) . There is man with a motorcycle in the courtyad.
Because he is so rich, he is able to hire a firm who will help him reproduce this setting exactly. He finds an apartment building, vacates the occupants with ample compensation, and auditions people for various parts. Sometimes the apartment is “on” for twenty-four hours. Sometimes he turns it off for a while. The pervasive, unsettlinng trajectory, is the notion of“enactment” of events, rather than simply living them.
At one point the character says“all events leave their mark” and it is the mark of an event, rather than a fresh event, that grounds (or attempts to ground) the amnesiac. The book is spare, elegant and creates the sense of “haptic space----a term used in Europe, in the arts, and in literature (from Deleuze), to connnote close-up space, space that becomes as you read it. (McCarthy is engrossed in this notion and it was well-defined by Margarita Glinzberg, an artist, whom he interviewed.)
As I read more about him, I realize that in Europe there is far more interaction between the arts and literature. But it’s my impression that a great deal of good literature, whether or not the writer has ever given any thought to haptic space, creates a world in which the reader isn’t in the space of the narrator,even if the narrator has a strong narrative voice, but in a space that unfolds within the book. The character in Remainder is completely in synch with his increasing desires for enanctment, so there is an elegant one-to-one correspondence between the narrator’s motives,his passions, and the plot. He also had a memorable assistant name Naz, whose mind works like a computer and can carry out all (well...almost all...his wishes)
McCarthy says that the trajectory of the narrative came to him all at once, when he was in a friend's apartment looked at a crack in the wall and had a deja vu. After that he spent months looking though London to find the right apartment--although he didn't vacate any of the occupants(!)--and interviewing amnesia victims.
His debut novel Remainderhad an interesting history: It couldn’t get published in England and was firstpublished in November 2005 by Paris-based art press Metronome. After becoming a cult hit championed first by British webzines (it was 3:AM Magazine’s Book of theYear for 2005) and then by the literary press, Remainder was republished by Alma Booksin the UK (2006) and Vintagein the US (2007). A French version (Et ce sont les chats qui tombèrent, HachetteLittérature, 2007) is to be followed by editions in Japanese,Korean, Greek, Spanish and Croatian. You can read more at
and read the interviewwith Ginzberg at
I discovered this novel in an article by Zadie Smith in The New York Review of Books. She contrasts this with a safer novel that took longer to write and was published immediately. Although she may be more erudite than she needs to be, she is generous in her review---talking about Remainder as a novel that breaks the confines of modern literature, and putting the other novel (which I think won the Booker Prize) and much of her own work in the category of "safe" traditional literature.
But Remainder, although it has a surreal premise, proceeds as linear narrative. If you can tolerate the narrator's detached persona (he reminded me of Camus' narrator in The Stranger), it's worth a read.
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