A review of

Remainder

by Tom McCarthy

Central question: When have you felt the least inauthentic?
Format: 320 pp., paperback; Size: 8.5" x 5.5"; Price: $13.95; Publisher: Vintage; Subjects of other books and essays by the author: Tintin, James Joyce, Stanley Milgram, The Cramps; Representative sentence: “I thought back over the serenity, the floating sensation that I’d felt when walking past my liver lady as she put the bin bag out; over my elation when the blue goop had seemed to have dematerialised and become sky; the intense and overwhelming tingling that had fulgurated when I’d opened myself up and become passive lying on the tarmac by the phone cabin and had stayed with me for days; I let my thoughts run right up to that same morning.”

Maurice Blanchot’s philosophical work posits the idea of unnameable trauma, of the impossibility of knowing the experience of death, and the sense that the traumatic event, along with its recording or retelling, has always already happened. The traumatic event can be both familiar and alienating—it seems familiar, “like a movie,” but immediately throws you into the unknown future of it having happened. For Blanchot, you can’t ever be witness to the actual moment of its happening. His challenging ideas demand a leap of faith from the reader, but to let his words seep in is to feel calmed in the face of the anxiety generated by the minutiae and attendant meaninglessness of everyday life. This sort of calm is the same reward offered by Remainder, a novel of astonishing genius in which an unnamed protagonist, who has suffered an unnameable accident, seeks to uncover real feeling again.

As recompense for his coma-inducing brain injury, the narrator receives a substantial payout from an unnamed party and decides to spend it re-creating—in full-scale—spaces and moments in time. He takes over a tenement block, a street in Brixton, and a warehouse near Heathrow in which to reenact events as slight as an encounter on a staircase, and as elaborate as a fatal shooting; they happen on the scale of Christo installations, but never knowingly become art. Rather, the narrator is trying to create situations in which he “feels” authentic, fluent, where things are both almost about to happen and at the same time have always already happened.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Sarah Cook

Sarah Cook is a contemporary art curator, an academic, and a Canadian who lives in the seventh tallest building in the city of Newcastle upon Tyne, U.K.

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