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.