Review; Remainder, by Tom McCarthy

**WARNING** I don’t usually like to include spoilers, however for the purpose of this review, I felt they needed to be included.**

As much as I liked this book, and wished I could give it a higher rating, it was so frustratingly frustrating. Yes, that’s how frustrating it was.

For me, the book started out really well; the unnamed narrator has suffered a traumatic experience that made him forget everything that happened in his life leading up to the accident. He can’t even remember the event that caused this, describing it as “something falling from the sky”. He receives £8.5 million as compensation and spends the night discussing with his friends how he should spend his earnings.

Ever since the accident, the narrator has begun to question everything about life; he compares the actions people run through in real life, to those in film. He compares the way an actor, such as Robert de Niro, will light up a cigarette in a film with no problems; the lighter catches straight away, the cigarette is lit the first time, not the second or third, the movements made are smooth. He claims actions in real life are bumpy and forced, whereas in movies they look so natural. He goes to a party one night, and, whilst in the bathroom, notices a large crack in the plaster of the wall. He copies the crack precisely onto a piece of paper and leaves the party. He describes how he is “a mixture of serene and intense” feeling, realising that he has “been real – been without first understanding how to try to be”. Yeah, I don’t really understand that either.

Screen Shot 2015-09-12 at 15.17.21This crack has triggered a vital memory of a place he used to live. He doesn’t just remember his flat, but his neighbours, the pianist who would play, going over his mistakes repetitively until he got them perfect, and the old woman who fried liver every day, so the smell floated out of the windows and into his own kitchen. He even remembers cats lounging on the flat roofs of the houses opposite him. Suddenly, he knows what he’s going to do with his money. With the help of a logistics and organisers firm, he recreates the whole apartment building, down to the cats on the roofs opposite, the old woman, the pianist, even the concierge from the lobby downstairs, and her cupboard containing a hoover and a mop. He buys the whole building and moves all the original tenants out. He finds actors to play the pianist and the old lady and pays them daily for their efforts. And if you thought it wasn’t weird already, it starts to get a lot weirder.

The re-enactment is a success, however, it is not enough for the unnamed narrator. He wants to feel the feeling of weightlessness and relief that he felt after he’d finished the project and had the actors practise particular movements and actions. Almost like the film he was imagining with de Niro. The narrator takes his tyre to be repaired; it has a puncture. He comes across three young brothers in the local garage; their parents have gone out briefly. He asks if the oldest boy can mend his tyre. He does so, and the narrator wants to have this scene reenacted. The narrator hears of a shoot-out in the local area. He gains all the inside information he can and wants to reenact the shooting down to the last detail. As the story continues, the narrator gets more and more out of hand, wanting bigger and better projects to work on.

It is clear to the reader at this stage that the narrator is unreliable; he has blackouts at certain moments, seems to be obsessed by his reenactments, and is always able to smell cordite. McCarthy leaves us second-guessing as to what really happened to the narrator and we are never told what it was that hit him that day. The final reenactment that is issued – spoiler warning here! – is a bank robbery. However, the narrator doesn’t want to pretend anymore; he wants his film to become a reality. Although he still uses actors, he decides to use a real bank, not a set. While the actors know it’s a fake robbery, they don’t tell the staff at the bank that. They use real guns. It’s not faking anymore; this has become reality.

Apart from that small spoiler, I won’t tell the ending – you’ll just have to read the book! The subject of identity is so important in the novel. The narrator is unnamed, and is never described to us, so we do not know what he looks like or even what his name is. The actors are not real, and their names are never said to us either. The narrator could not remember what the concierge looked like, so she adopts a white mask to wear, something the narrator uses later on while acting out the shooting. Reality and make-believe become mixed together in a surreal and haunting story about a man trying to understand who he is, losing himself in the process.

Overall rating: 3/5


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