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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Remainder

by
Tom McCarthy


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Remainder



Title: Remainder
Author: Tom McCarthy
Genre: Novel
Written: 2005
Length: 310 pages
Availability: Remainder - US
Remainder - UK
Remainder - Canada
Et ce sont les chats qui tombèrent - France
8 1/2 Millionen - Deutschland

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Our Assessment:

A- : well-executed, and good (if peculiar) fun

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Bookforum . 2-3/2007 Lenora Todaro
Entertainment Weekly A- 9/2/2007 Michael Endelman
The Guardian A- 12/8/2006 Patrick Ness
The Independent A 12/12/2005 Peter Carty
Independent on Sunday A 27/11/2005 Tom Boncza-Tomaszewski
London Rev. of Books . 9/3/2006 Daniel Soar
The LA Times . 11/2/2007 Tod Goldberg
The NY Observer . 19/2/2007 Anna Shapiro
The NY Rev. of Books . 19/7/2007 Joyce Carol Oates
The NY Rev. of Books . 20/11/2008 Zadie Smith
The NY Times Book Rev. . 25/2/2007 Liesl Schillinger
The New Yorker . 12/3/2007 .
Sunday Telegraph A 8/10/2006 Catherine Humble
The Telegraph . 28/6/2007 Simon Baker
The Times . 29/7/2006 Philip Oltermann
TLS A 25/11/2005 Michael Caines


  Review Consensus:

  Very impressed

  From the Reviews:
  • "(A) tightly knit, suspenseful, and cold book about disconnection (induced by posttraumatic stress and, to some degree, consumer culture), with echoes of Huysmans and Heidegger. Nihilistically modern and classically structured" - Lenora Todaro, Bookforum

  • "In taut and chilly prose, McCarthy describes how this mission becomes a disturbing obsession; the horrifying conclusion is visible 30 pages off, but it's no less shocking when it arrives." - Michael Endelman, Entertainment Weekly

  • "There are some bumps on the way. (...) Still, this is a refreshingly idiosyncratic, enjoyably intelligent read by a writer with ideas and talent." - Patrick Ness, The Guardian

  • "Do not be deterred by Remainder's elevated associations, because it wears its high-art attire discreetly. McCarthy's prose is precise and unpretentious. His anti-hero is a sympathetic Everyman, and it is difficult to resist the dominion of his obsession. It has to be said that the title is not a positive portent for future sales, and Remainder might amount to no more than a cult. This would be unfortunate, because its minatory brilliance calls for classic status." - Peter Carty, The Independent

  • "How authentic might a re-enactment become? How real can a copy be? Dark and witty, Remainder poses some very interesting questions." - Tom Boncza-Tomaszewski, Independent on Sunday

  • "This isn't what we expect a novel to be, but it's why it it's a very good novel indeed." - Daniel Soar, London Review of Books

  • "Those looking for a neat finish will be disappointed. Remainder isn't a mystery novel -- there's no villain here apart from time and space -- so if its core ripples with ambiguity, all the better for the reader, as this is a book to be read and then reread, rich as it is with its insights, daring as it is with its contradictions." - Tod Goldberg, The Los Angeles Times

  • "The story is told in the charming, light, witty style of the kind endemic to British comic novels, leading us to expect it to unwind in the way of such plotty, fluent confections. (...) (I)n the end Remainder leaves you feeling tricked into cozy sympathy with a character who proves uncaring and vacuous." - Anna Shapiro, The New York Observer

  • "So slow-moving and seemingly aimless is Remainder in its opening chapters that readers may be discouraged from continuing, a risk for a writer bent upon being faithful to the stupefying boredom of his Everyman's life. (...) Remainder kicks into a higher-voltage, Quentin Tarrantinoesque mode once the amnesiac loses interest in restaging his own memories (.....) Remainder is a novel that may appeal primarily to readers with interests in philosophy and the world of contemporary art, but McCarthy has written an inspired airborne ending" - Joyce Carol Oates, The New York Review of Books

  • "Remainder is not filled with pretty quotes; it works by accumulation and repetition, closing in on its subject in ever-decreasing revolutions, like a trauma victim circling the blank horror of the traumatic event. It plays a long, meticulous game, opening with a deadpan paragraph of comic simplicity" - Zadie Smith, The New York Review of Books

  • "McCarthy's superb stylistic control and uncanny imagination transport this novel beyond the borders of science fiction. His bleak humor, hauntingly affectless narrator and methodical expansion on his theme make Remainder more than an entertaining brain-teaser: it's a work of novelistic philosophy, as disturbing as it is funny. McCarthy shows that philosophy, like history, can repeat itself as farce." - Liesl Schillinger, The New York Times Book Review

  • "(H)ypnotically creepy (.....) McCarthy's portrait of the pursuit of total control is arresting, and he is alert to the bland amorality that underlies it." - The New Yorker

  • "The storyline mesmerises in its imaginative brilliance (.....) In the protagonist's quest for what he calls 'authenticity' -- living in the moment without rationalising it -- the novel explores complex philosophical ideas about 'being' in a simple and direct way. And through McCarthy's attention to detail, the fantastical plot always retains a feeling of plausibility." - Catherine Humble, Sunday Telegraph

  • "Remainder is unusual but fluidly written and funny, and while the theme of urban purposelessness is familiar, Tom McCarthy writes well about mental imbalance and the nature of reality." - Simon Baker, The Telegraph

  • "With its clever set-pieces about texting, loyalty cards and pub etiquette, Remainder is an intelligent and absurd satire on consumer culture. Yet this is more than just a comedy of modern manners." - Philip Oltermann, The Times

  • "Its coolness, with McCarthy's deadpan prose nicely matching his narrator's closed-off state of mind, is itself pleasurable.(...) Remainder should be read (and, of course, reread) for its intelligence and humour." - Michael Caines, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Remainder is a loopy, obsessive tale. It begins with the narrator getting a large (£8.5 million) compensation settlement for an accident he had: something fell from the sky and apparently struck him, causing serious injury. Part of the settlement prohibits him from revealing what exactly happened -- not that he really recalls it.
       Whatever happened, it has lingering effects. The rehabilitation process has, in fact, made him more emphatically the man he used to be -- though he realises that maybe he wasn't all that much to begin with. Specifically, he comes to the understanding that:

I'd always been inauthentic. Even before the accident, if I'd been walking down the street just like DeNiro, smoking a cigarette like him, and even if it had lit first try, I'd still be thinking: Here I am, walking down the street, smoking a cigarette, like someone in a film. See ? Second-hand. The people in films aren't thinking that. They're just doing their thing, real, not thinking anything. Recovering from the accident, learning to move and walk, understanding before I could act -- all this made me just become even more of what I'd always been anyway, added another layer of distance between me and things I did. Greg was right, absolutely right. I wasn't unusual: I was more usual than most.
       His new-found riches allow him to indulge himself, and he chooses to do so in creative if bizarre fashion. (He immediately invests most of his money in stocks and -- entirely unbelievably -- gets a consistently incredible return on his investment. His stockbroker repeatedly warns that he's dangerously over-exposed and urges him to diversify his portfolio, but, for the run of the book, he remains on such a run that he does have the incredible funds necessary for his undertakings available.)
       He has lost almost all memory, and so when a memory comes to him -- a room, a flat, a circumscribed little world -- he gets it into his head to recreate it. Not just a static locale that looks like what he remembers, but an entire small slice of life that comes with it: the smell of livers cooking a few floors away, the sound of a pianist practising, specific encounters. He hires a 'facilitator', Nazrul Ram Vyas, and explains his ambitious (and yet limited) vision.
       It's a fun idea, and McCarthy has fun with it, describing how Naz and the narrator realise the vision: buying a building, hiring the people to play the roles, trying to recreate the memory down to the last detail (and leaving blanks, for now, where there are blanks). Finding first the site (they buy a whole building) and then the appropriate people is not easy, but it slowly comes together. Eventually, the narrator can inhabit his memory-tableau vivant:
I generally put the building into on mode for between six and eight hours each day -- mostly in stretches of two hours.
       He roams around, considers it from all angles, fixes up the re-enactments (and has the people go through them again and again, trying to get it down perfect). He derives enormous satisfaction from this world in which he's in complete control -- though it's not so much the god-like control he can exert that matters to him, but simply the comforting familiarity of the scenes and actions. Like the child who can't get enough of its favoutrite bedtime-story, the narrator eagerly relives these scenes again and again, with only small variations.
       Why does he do it ?
to be real -- to become fluent, natural, to cut out the detour that sweeps us around what's fundamental to events, preventing us from touching their core: the detour that makes us all second-hand and second-rate.
       The house-recreation keeps him occupied for quite a while, and he ignores most of the world beyond it, but eventually does make a trip to get a flat tire fixed. That experience makes such a strong impression on him that he immediately sets out to recreate that one as well. Soon enough there's another, more public, scene he wants to re-enact. It's like a drug: he can't get enough, and finds these re-enactments incredibly fulfilling. But they also overwhelm his system: over-stimulated he begins falling into trance-like states, waking comas.
       Not surprisingly, things eventually get out of hand as the re-enactments escalate and the line between act and re-enactment (and, yes, reaction) are blurred. And ultimately McCarthy lets it all come to the appropriate conclusion.

       Remainder is a very odd book, but enjoyably obsessive and very clever, McCarthy having great fun with the details of his concept. He writes very well, and treats his narrator seriously enough, making it easier to overlook the many implausibilities of the story. It is a fairly silly philosophy that is presented here, this wish to fix reality as on film, and then replay it at will (even at half-speed ...) -- indeed, surely the 'detour', as McCarthy has it, is far more interesting than the actual event, core and all --, but McCarthy never wavers, taking the idea as far as it will go. As such, the book is an enormous success, an odd (but always entertaining) exercise in fiction and philosophy.

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Links:

Remainder: Reviews: International Necronautical Society: Tom McCarthy: Other books by Tom McCarthy under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary British fiction

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About the Author:

       English author Tom McCarthy was born in 1969.

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© 2007-2010 the complete review

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