Today I offer you a guest post from my friend Sarah, who is such a voracious reader that she has her library identification number memorized. Now that’s dedication, friends.
If you suddenly received millions of dollars, what would you do with the money? It is one man’s (fictional) response to this question that Tom McCarthy explores in his novel, Remainder. The premise of the novel is that the protagonist/narrator gets 8.5 million pounds in a settlement following an accident. He has no idea what he wants to do with the money, rejecting his friends’ suggestions that he either live a rock star life full of drugs and (well-endowed) women or invest in development in Africa. Then, when using an acquaintance’s bathroom, he sees a random crack in the wall. This crack triggers a detailed vision based around an identical crack in the protagonist’s imaginary bathroom, which is part of an entire imaginary apartment complex, including the people who live there and what they do. Suddenly, he is gripped with a compulsion to bring this vision to life.
The book really takes off as he “re-enacts” the apartment building. He has to buy property, renovate it to match every detail in his vision, and hire “re-enactors” to fill the roles of the people living there. For example, there has to be one old woman who has to be constantly frying liver, the smell of which must waft up into the protagonist’s apartment. The protagonist describes testing for the smell of liver frying:
An extractor fan had been installed above the liver lady’s stove, its out-funnel on the building’s exterior turned towards the windows of my kitchen and my bathroom. Liver had been bought that day—pig’s liver; but we found that frying just one panful didn’t produce enough smell. Someone else was dispatched to buy more frying pans and a lot more liver. They cooked it in four frying pans at once.
After completing the apartment complex, the protagonist becomes obsessed with re-enacting a variety of different events in different locations. While this is strange, the book lulled me into accepting these activities. It even made me identify with the protagonist through descriptions about how events make him feel and about what he is searching for by undertaking the projects. Eventually, though, his re-enactments led up to a shocking (but fitting) ending which snapped me out of my identification with the main character. I finally realized that, although I knew some of his inner thoughts, I really didn’t know anything about him: I didn’t know the details of the accident, anything about his life before the accident, or what kind of person he actually is. As I was writing this review I realized that the character doesn’t even have a name!
Overall, I found Remainder to be very original and interesting. Although it’s been a few days since I finished it, I still find myself thinking about it at random times. To me, that’s the sign of a good book.