Monday, July 09, 2007

Remembering Remainder

I was fortunate to read Tom McCarthy's marvelous novel, Remainder, last Fall, a few months ahead of its appearance in the U.S. I'd picked it up in France and read it on the flight back. Since then, it's been great to see that its reception by American readers has been so positive (The Complete Review, naturally, has its own review, including their customary review round-up), and I've noticed more and more bloggers mentioning it in passing, with praise, though few have yet had the chance to discuss it at length (Matthew Tiffany, for example, has had Remainder on the mind of late, when he hasn't been thinking about diapers!).

Reading about the book again, as well as taking a couple of flights in the months since our honeymoon, has reminded me of something I meant to write about before, but which slipped my mind. If you've read the book, or read about it, recall that the narrator stages elaborate "re-enactments", which eventually he has slowed down to an unreal, excessive extent, so that he can enter into the atomic moments, if you will, those moments in which, he thinks, life happens, those moments, anyway, in which he feels most alive. In my review I said this:
. . . he is trying to have a real experience, to enter into the experience, and his experience is such that we enter into it ourselves, almost achieve a trance state in our reading... In the re-enactments, as the narrator seeks to enter into the moment, to recreate these fleeting sensations when he felt most real, most alive, as he slows down the process, the prose slows, and we enter into the moment as readers, achieve an almost trance-like state, as he does.
Right. As I said, I read this on the flight home from France, a fairly long flight. This is what happened: You know how, when you're on a flight in a large plane, it often seems, especially looking into the cabin, as if you're not moving at all? I experienced this effect, and then some, on this particular flight. It's the "and then some" that I'm reminded of now. I was sitting in a window seat, thoroughly engrossed in the book, though I'd look out the window on occasion and see--white. Not just clouds, it appeared, but white. As far as I could see, there was the crisp, bright, edge-of-the-world blue of the sky in the upper half, and the completely flat, unchanging, featureless white in the lower. This happened several times over the space of an hour. I would emerge from the printed page, having read one of these re-enactments, or series of re-enactments, and attained the very trance-like state I describe above. I'd look out the window, and I felt as if I really was in a trance, or that the plane really wasn't moving. So strong was the illusion that getting up to use the restroom did not dispel it. It was, I admit, a little eerie.


Mark Thwaite said...

This was reviewed back on ReadySteadyBook way back at the end of 2005!

Good news -- also on ReadySteadyBook there will be an extended interview with Tom, running over the course of five days, sometime in September ...

Richard said...

Oh yeah, I definitely read the RSB review! It was that and mentions by Steve Mitchelmore that got me interested in reading it in the first place, placing it on my short list of books to look out for when we traveled to France.

I look forward to the interview with Tom.