Remainder, by Tom McCarthy

Mission accomplished, deadline achieved. The draft's a disaster, but hey, it's a disaster with an ending, so at least there's something to revise, right? And since I'm not going to be a 16-year-old wunderkind (thanks for that one, Grendel), I'll just shoot for Ben Fountain status, which means I've got some time.

In the meantime, I have some reading to do. I was pretty excited about Remainder because I have one friend who loves it and is bff with the author (who's a bit of an odd duck, from what I can tell), and another friend who loathed it with every tasty oatbran fiber of her being. Exciting! Plus there's Zadie Smith's article on the two paths for the novel, one of which (Joseph O'Neill's Netherland) I wasn't crazy about, which begs the question of whether I'd have any interest in the other path. Add to that the extremely mixed reactions over at the Tournament of Books, which I always enjoy, and you've got to figure you're in for something unusual.

And it turns out "unusual" works pretty well as a descriptor here. This is definitely not a Workshop-friendly type of read--the characters are made out of the thinnest cardboard, with the main character nameless and the only other real person of interest described only in terms of the whirring of the gears in his brain. Our narrator has been struck down by some sort of airborne technological detritus, which has left him unable to remember how to do even the most basic things, but which has also left him with a giant cash settlement as long as he never tells anyone what happened. Not a hard deal to accept given that he can't remember anything in the first place. After a misleading blip where he seems to be trying to use the money for good (charity) or evil (hookers and blow), he settles on using it to recreate settings that interest him--first an apartment building filled with residents who do things like practice piano and cook liver, and then the scenes of accidents that happened nearby.

If this all sounds a bit plot-free, rest assured, it mostly is. It's also quite readable, which I wasn't really expecting but which was a pleasant surprise. With that said, though, while I enjoy a novel of ideas as much as the next girl, I'm not quite convinced that the ideas we're dealing with here elevated the book enough to make up for the fact that it's basically impossible to get invested in the characters (and thus the situation). And if you're someone who reads for the pleasure of getting to know the people in the book, you're probably going to want to throw the book at the wall. I look forward to hearing if anyone actually did.


Grendel said...

Wow, you've really piqued my interest. That interview is wonderful. Remainder goes on the List.

Antoine said...

I loved this book.

My review at the 1/4ly Conversation:


Grendel said...

Nice review, Antoine. It moves up the List.