Remainder by Tom McCarthy

remainder-coverThe subject of memory is something that many books touch upon. None have examined them in the same way that Tom McCarthy has with Remainder, which is an excellent addition to anyone’s bookshelf. The book concerns itself with the quest for authenticity, both in memory and action – the main character has absolutely no memory, and doesn’t know whether the actions he is taking are authentic, real or genuine or not. This becomes all-consuming, and the vast majority of the book is spent trying to recreate the one genuine memory the main character thinks he has. It’s much more than an unreliable narrator – we’re examining someone’s whole life through their lens after an accident that they can’t even describe and that we assumed must have happened in order to put the narrator on the current course of action they’re on.

Describing this book makes it much more complicated than it actually is. With this kind of subject matter, it could be very difficult to read – but the writing style isn’t anywhere near as dry or analytical as one would expect. There are a few wry moments and there is a surprising amount of humour in the book, despite the overall tone and subject matter. As the book progresses, the general atmosphere becomes more violent and intense – but in an interesting way, that is both detached and involved. It never becomes an exercise in transgression or ‘testing’ the reader to see how much they can take, unlike many other writers – there is an element of intensity in the book but it remains a constant undercurrent, which is much more unsettling than outright shock-writing.

The slow burn of this book is something to behold. It’s truly interesting to see the narrative develop, and the main character’s voice is distant without being aseptic and difficult to read: there are plenty of writers who would take the route of making the main character’s voice nearly unbearably matter-of-fact, but McCarthy doesn’t do this here. This choice elevates this book far further than what it could have been, I believe.

If you have any interest in ideas about memory, storytelling, repetition or any similar subjects, I highly recommend Remainder. McCarthy has created a very intriguing and re-readable work here that really lends itself to analysis and interpretation, and is sure to be something you’re mulling over for plenty of time to come.

 

Neuromancer by William Gibson

neuromancermain-739470If you’re at all interested in cyberpunk, futurism or science fiction in general, you should really read this book. Neuromancer has influenced a huge number of films, books, video games and many other works – as you read this book, you’ll find a wide range of tropes and influences jumping out at you. It’s truly easy to read this book and be amazed at how influential and seminal it is, but nothing you’ll find here feels rehashed or overly familiar, which is a testament to how original and well-written it is. Despite being William Gibson’s first book, the level of urgency and proficiency at which he writes in this novel is something to behold.

There’s so much here you’re not told, so many dots to connect on your own – but nothing that feels overly obtuse or difficult to understand. It’s all very much beautifully written and gives you just enough information to feel compelled to keep going, and there’s plenty to get hooked into here – the narrative pushes you forward while providing you with enough compelling plot to keep going.

Essentially, this novel takes place in the world of Case – a hacker who lives a few years in the future, in a world that’s just barely fleshed out but provides so much feeling and depth that there is really no need to have a great deal of exposition. William Gibson is a true master of delivering backstory and plot development as a natural and coherent part of the narrative with barely any exposition – and when a character does explain part of the story, it always feels very natural and not like the writer is simply delivering important plot points directly to you.

As the characters move throughout the world Gibson creates, you get a truly different sense of what each location consists of. There are a wide cast of characters, and you’re sure to get attached to some of them – Molly and Case are the two protagonists, and they have a great deal of depth. Everyone supporting them is great too, and it’s really remarkable how similar to real-world locations Gibson has made his futuristic locales. The places that are based upon real locations (Istanbul, Orly etc.) really seem as though Gibson has visited these places and is willing to incorporate his knowledge into his descriptions.

Ivy Style

9780300170559Ivy Style is a work published by the Yale University Press describing a very particular style of clothes and dressing that was all the rage in the mid-20th century. Ivy style itself is something that most people would recognise on sight, but would be hard-pressed to describe beyond being ‘preppy’. It came out of American college campuses, generally in the Ivy League, and was extensively catalogued in the seminal Japanese work Take Ivy. Think lots of chinos, blazers, loafers, button-down collars and sweaters and you’re getting close. There have been many attempts to catalogue and extensively describe the Ivy look, and it’s hard to find a book that doesn’t at least do a halfway decent job, but Ivy Style has some of the best writing and photographic work that I’ve seen in a work on the subject.

There has been much written about the printing of this book – the typesetting, in particular. There are many complaints that the font is too small and printed in a light grey colour that makes it difficult to differentiate from the background, but I haven’t found this to be the case: you simply need to read it in the correct light. Even with this caveat, I’ve read this book by some pretty dim bedside lighting and not found myself straining my eyes. Of course, black type would be the ideal choice, but ultimately this is a pretty minor quibble.

When it comes to the quality of writing, there is some true insight to be gleaned from the various essays and pieces compiled in this book: a variety of writers have brought their ideas on Ivy fashion to the table, whether describing it in its native location on the 40s, 50s and 60s American college campus or detailing how this style of dressing has been disseminated throughout modern fashion trends and Western society as a whole.

It’s interesting to read some pieces in this book that revolve around non-American countries’ adopting of Ivy style and fashion, and consider how it could be seen as a reflection of the Westernisation of the rest of the world. Ivy Style truly makes one consider how such an Anglo-centric style that was particular to a fairly specific subset of American society became such an influence on other societies with very little in common with your average mid-20th century US fraternity member. Worth a read, definitely.