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Remainder (Vintage Originals)by Tom McCarthy
Reading Group Guide
1. Why might McCarthy have chosen the word “remainder” for his title? What particular resonance does the word have in the context of the novels themes of repetition, re-enactment, and things left over?
2. In the second paragraph of Remainder, the narrator remarks that “Minds are versatile and wily things. Real
chancers” [p. 3]. In what ways does the novel demonstrate the truth of this statement?
3. In what ways is Remainder an unconventional, shocking, and troubling novel? What expectations does it either frustrate or satisfy in unexpected ways?
4. “No Doing without Understanding: the accident bequeathed me that for ever, an eternal detour” [pp. 22-23]. Why does the narrator find this condition so intolerable?
5. In order to create the authentic experience he craves, the narrator realizes that hed “have to buy a whole building, and fill it with people whod behave just as I told them to” [p. 69]. How does the use of the artifice and a controlled environment create a feeling of naturalness? What does that paradox reveal?
6. The mysterious “councillor” who appears late in the novel asks what purpose the narrators elaborate
re-enactments serve—are they art, or perhaps a kind of magic, or shamanic performances? Dr. Trevellian suggests that the narrator is seeking a condition that will generate the minds own opiates. The narrator himself believes that he is trying to feel more “real” [pp. 237-240]. Which of these explanations seems most convincing? Are there other ways of understanding the narrators bizarre obsessions?
7. In what ways does the narrators obsession with controlling time—reliving the past, creating a self-contained world where he can act as a god over people and events—reflect desires that, to one degree or another, most people feel? Is the need to control an inherent part of the human condition?
8. Remainder is a realistic novel and yet it describes actions that seem impossible. How does McCarthy manage to make the more fantastic elements of the novel believable?
9. How does the relationship between the narrator and Naz change over the course of the novel? Why does Naz end up in a catatonic state?
10. The narrator thinks of the man gunned down on Belinda Road, “hed done what I wanted to do: merged with the space around him, sunk and flowed into it until there was no distance between it and him—and merged, too, with his actions, merged to the extent of having no more consciousness of them. Hed stopped being separate, removed, imperfect. Cut out the detour” [pp. 197-198]. Why does the narrator find this “merging” so fascinating? To what extent is this a universal desire?
11. The phrase “Everything must leave some kind of mark” is repeated several times throughout the novel. What is the significance of this statement?
12. The narrator kills Robber Re-enactor Two, he says, “because I wanted to,” and is fascinated by the blood coming from the body: “Wow, look at it. Its just a . . . thing. A patch. A little bit repeating. . . . Isnt it beautiful?” [pp. 299-300]. Why isnt he able to feel any empathy for the man he has just killed? Is the narrator himself, by the end of the novel, beyond the readers empathy?
13. The novel ends with the narrator forcing the pilot to keep flying back and forth, creating vapor trail that describes a figure eight in the sky and achieving a state approximating pure stasis. Why does this give the narrator such pleasure? How is this flight likely to end? With a deadly crash or a return to land and incarceration?
14. Can Remainder be read as a kind of parable of the human condition? If so, how?
15. The International Necronautical Society, a semi-fictitious avant-garde network for which Tom McCarthy serves as General Secretary, declares on its Web site (www.necronauts.org) that the origins of art “lie in transgression, death and sacrifice.” In what ways does Remainder explore “transgression, death and sacrifice”?
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