Remainder

Time to join the rest of the crowd, I guess. There’s a review of Remainder up at Splinters; here’s Short Term Whatsit‘s view of it: here it is at Ready Steady Book (and an interview). 3am‘s book of the year, of course. And let’s not forget the other bandwagon-jumpers over at The Independent.

I’m a bit worried about this. I want to pay Remainder some serious compliments, but I’m going to start negatively; I don’t want to seem grudging or pernickety (we’ll save that for Zadie in the next post), but I think it’ll get me to what I want to say. Also, I think it’s worth thinking about critically: it can take the hits, and it’ll get me closer to what I mean.

It’s such an odd book. In some ways that matter a lot to me, it didn’t appear especially good: the prose is mostly a bit too flat. It does kick off from time to time, particularly when floating off into image-reveries, but I wasn’t sure about the texture of it to start with. I can hear that he’s doing a particular voice, but it felt a little too plain to me. The early dialogue was tinny too.

It grew on me though: there’s a near-devotional plainness to most of it; it sporadically reminds me of dissenting spiritual autobiography – Bunyan about to try a miracle on the puddles – and though that’s a genre or a mode I’ve always disliked it is affecting. The clarity, plainness and pace is hypnotic.

It’s also packed with stuff that I’m not that interested in: ‘authenticity’ isn’t a particularly troublesome or significant idea to me. Interesting enough, I s’pose, but I don’t really have time for art that (‘hem) ‘explores the concept of a.’; literature that gets hung up on / makes a fuss about forms of authenticity usually isn’t for me (summary of rational objections would be that abstract & hermeneutic reflections on or investigations into meaning and authenticity usually overlook rhetoric, craft, anthropology and biology in relation to human language, relationships and communities. Put more briefly, I’m just not much of a one for ideas.)

But again, this held me. I don’t know why. Maybe it is that basic device MacCarthy uses, of having a narrator who doesn’t know to namedrop the relevant canonical philosophers through the text. That balances the fact that you sometimes feel you’re being spoonfed a novel of ideas; that some situations are a little too neat. Maybe it helps too that the novel is willing give the desire for transcendence its head: that the argument between the attempt on the ideal & platonic & eternal, and the continuous remainder of base matter and earthly error that frustrates that attempt feels real; the fight isn’t fixed, the dialectic is alive.

It’s one of the few contemporary novels I’ve read that’s worth talking about: ice in its veins, good eyes, imagination, confidence and control.

Some questions that don’t really matter are nagging at me. Is this the start of something new? It’s not polite British literary fiction; it’s not particularly like London art-school transgressive fiction; nor fictions that mistake London for the world; it’s not writerly in a USA MFA way.

It’s the first thing from this country, too, that feels like it’s actually had the wind of the web in its sails (or rather the wind of the British book sites and blogs; I may be wrong about that). I’d be interested to know how it’s done, and whether the enthusiasts of the opening para helped.

Summary: Hussah for Tom MacCarthy!

I’ve got more to say, but it’s general, and not specific to Remainder. New post!