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Remainder - out of reach

9 Nov, 2014

Remainder (Alma Books: 2006). The story of a man who, after a major accident, has to relearn how to do pretty much everything. The windfall of a massive accident pay-out helps, and enables him to embark on a journey to feed his obsessions.


As far as concepts go, this book is plain odd. And I don’t mean wacky. I mean surreal. I mean McCarthy has a flair for taking stuff down a path you would never have thought of yourself, and just going and going with it until he’s spun out a whole, strange story.


He asks you to stick along for the same ride, and it kind of works, a bit. He’s got original ideas, and they make for fascinating concepts. He also layers so many wider meanings and themes that it constantly keeps your mind racing, hunting between the lines for the sense in it all, for the lessons.


I like big questions, the big ideas, and Remainder has a bunch. The thought of relearning how to be human. The value of a perfect memory. The un-bottle-able nature of life and movement. The virtue and danger of obsession. They’re all knocking around here.


But I never shook the feeling that McCarthy and I hum to a different tune. I had the same feeling in C. That our thoughts vibrate at different levels. For all the craft and timing and talent in Remainder, I spent most of the novel feeling on edge, certain there was a value to it all that was out of my reach.


Maybe that’s the point. Maybe McCarthy is trying to create discomfort. Maybe he’s trying to write something that disturbs. Frustrates. But in doing so, he forgets to bring the fun. The need for entertainment in amongst the clever.


Towards the end, there’s a burst of colour, which was a saving grace. A bit of art and volume in the writing. It’s a pay-off I felt was needed, after slogging my way through the rest of the book which is pretty functional in its style.


I ended up confused, which is apt. It’s weird, sure, but wonderful? Interesting, definitely, but entertaining? There’s meaning and beauty, but do you have to work too hard to get at it? I still don’t know, which is probably fairly damning in itself.




I feel I’m probably doing this a disservice. But once I got past fascination at the concept and a love for the questions being asked, there wasn’t enough in the writing and the plotting to make me want to pick this up time and again.


I’ve just re-read my previous review of C, and turns out I had pretty much the same reaction to that book. Go read it, it explains it all a bit better I think. Turns out I was more eloquent two years ago,


Next week, another odd one from a writer I’ve become a mini fan of this year.

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© Gavin Collins