Remainder, the book

1 Nov

What can I say about this book?! It’s bizarre, insane, and obsessive. I devoured it in four days, all the while wondering, ‘Who would write such a book!?’ and, ‘Why!??’ My husband put the book on my desk thinking I might like it. That’s it. I had no idea what it was about, or who the author was (the author is Tom McCarthy by the way). For this reason, I started out by sampling the book: reading a chapter or so, to see if I liked it, to see if I really wanted to continue. I was probably on Chapter 7, halfway through, before I realized that yes, I was going to read the whole book. But as I read it I kept on thinking, ‘Why?! Why am I still reading this?!”

So, what’s the deal, you say. This novel is about a guy who has an accident, inherits a ton of money, then goes off the deep end with it. In a bathroom at a party, he sees a crack on the wall, and is struck with a sudden feeling of déjà vu. He decides then and there, that he must re-create the bathroom, with its crack and window, and the way the roof looks out the window, a red roof with black cats, a smell of liver, every minutia he is experiencing then, in the bathroom. He must re-create his déjà vu, everything about it, so he can live in the moment, that particular moment… and that’s it. That’s the entire book.

“Right then I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my money. I wanted to reconstruct that space and enter it so that I could feel real again. I wanted to; I had to; I would. Nothing else mattered. I stood there staring at the crack. It all came down to that: the way it ran down the wall, the texture of the plaster all around it, the patches of colour to its right. That’s what had sparked the whole thing off. I had to get it down somehow– exactly, how it forked and jagged. Someone was knocking at the door.”

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As a course of reconstruction begins to unfold, the reader observes it all like a humorous, bizarre theater rehearsal. But this is only a play for one, for the protagonist, and for him, it is serious. With his huge sums of money, he hires an organizing team, goes on the search for the perfect building to purchase… and then shit gets real, y’all:

“We hired an architect. We hired an interior designer. We hired a landscape gardener for the courtyard. We hired contractors, who hired builders, electricians and plumbers. There were site managers and sub-site managers, delivery coordinators and coordination supervisors. We took on performers, props and wardrobe people, hair and make-up artists. We hired security guards. We fired the interior designer and hired another one. We hired people to liaise between Naz and the builders and managers and supervisors, and people to run errands for the liaisers so that they could liaise better.”

Tom McCarthy must have worked administration in the government somewhere. His hyperbolic telling of the dizzying heights to which organization can climb are Brazil-esque, and reminiscent of that time you spent trying to call and find your lost IRS 1040 form, or tell someone with health insurance that you have been sent the wrong bill. Good luck. If you have ever worked in admin, then you can certainly appreciate this novel.

This story quickly (and yet somehow slowly) descend into fun house games with daily, hourly, momentary repetitions of the movements of life. More and more re-enactments being chosen by the protagonist, seemingly at random but with some serious intent: an obsessive ballet of the minute (mi-noot or min-it), until it becomes horrific, and we are speeding to an inevitable doom. A never-ending loop. They say this is a book about happiness: the pursuit of, the futility of, the obsession of. At certain points I got the feeling of being stuck in a snow-globe… the world turns upside down, once, twice. The action is repeated, again and again, the world still turns upside down. There is a slowing of time, a soothing sensation, and then, the same thing happens once again.

I don’t know what makes this novel so compelling, it is very readable, so you have that. It’s more than just a story about obsession and mind games, although that could be enough, right? We never get the protagonist’s name, but all along we are riding completely in his mind, and what a mind it is to ride… I certainly recommend this book, but maybe not to everyone. The sheer bizarre-ity of the plot, and the excellent rendering of an impossible world remind me of “Geek Love”, by Katherine Dunn, one of my favorite reads of all time. I wasn’t sure for a while, but something tells me that I do indeed like this novel. It’s not every book that I pick up and finish under a week.



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