Friday, July 30, 2010
Remainder several months ago and have been wondering how to write about it ever since. I've been thrusting it wild-eyed in the hands of my friends, wanting fellow readers to talk with. It’s the story of man who receives an eight million pound payout for an accident which is never fully explained. With all that money, he decides to try to recreate one of his few memories which survived the accident; of walking down a staircase, looking out a window at cats on a roof, smelling liver frying and hearing a pianist practising. By re-enacting this authentic moment, our protagonist, who is never named, creates a laser-like focus and feels like he is both genuinely living and transcendent. The awkwardness of that last sentence is testament to the subtlety and brilliance of the book – there is not one statement of this fact, McCarthy is the king of what creative writing teachers call ‘showing, not telling’. The success of this one re-enactment leads to further recreations and leads inexorably to a dizzying climax.
What makes this such a fascinating, stimulating read is the way McCarthy tickles the synapses into wakefulness through what is, in effect, a prolonged thought experiment in narrative form. The narrator’s first person voice is entirely convincing – it’s like reading a transliterated version of method acting – and the characters all seem to behave not only autonomously but, dare I say it, authentically. And while this might sound like a purely cerebral book, through his pared-back writing, McCarthy generates some of the most evocative and visceral vignettes I’ve read lately.
I’m so excited to see he’s on the Booker Longlist. Apparently it took eight years of searching for a publisher for McCarthy to get Remainder into the mainstream but once published it enjoyed relatively good sales, as well as rights sales to France and Germany among others. This is a book for our age, one which speaks to the experience of the contemporary world.