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Remainder (Vintage Originals)


Remainder (Vintage Originals) Cover



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 ( 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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Average customer rating based on 6 comments:

suziehanra, January 22, 2012 (view all comments by suziehanra)
This book is unlike anything I have ever read. If you are tired of picking up contemporary fiction and finding that you've read the same story a million times before, then try Remainder. Ironically, Remainder, a true original, is a book about recreation, reenactment, and copying. A man overcoming amnesia copies into real life a memory of a forgotten place and forgotten people. He hires actors, buys an apartment building, and will go to any cost to recreate the life he believes he may have once had. But soon this is not enough for him. Soon he needs to recreate not just memory but real life, the things he sees or hears about happening around him--taking out the trash, then an accident, then a robbery--and thats not all. This book escalates like no other, as the recreations--and the protagonist's NEED to recreate--become more and more urgent, so does the reader's urge to find out how he will resolve this impossible desire. The ending is a shock and does not disappoint, but you don't have to wait till the end to be thrilled by what's written on every page.

Though this is one of the strangest and, content-wise, most daring books I've ever read, there's nothing so-called "experimental" in its language or structure to put off even the most mainstream reader. You don't need a dictionary to read this book, and you don't need a month to get through it. It's a quick, easy read, while also being one of the most puzzling and complex stories you will have ever encountered. McCarthy's handling of the escalation in the character and the story is pretty amazing, and his first-person narrator follows a perfectly-balanced sense of awareness, contemplation, and emotional reaction. It never gets sentimental, it never feels forced, it never feels gimmicky or too-clever, nor is this almost-unbelievable story ever unbelievable.

HIGHLY recommended, I got my brother to read this book and he has not picked up a work of fiction for 10 years!
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vanityclear, September 20, 2011 (view all comments by vanityclear)
Loved this book. McCarthy took a standard premise for a book (amnesia) and spun out a brilliant tale that reads like a dream. Really, I felt like I hallucinated it, the text so closely mirrored my thoughts. Read it. Read it now. Read it all in one sitting. Just go.
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Michael B Padrick, January 26, 2011 (view all comments by Michael B Padrick)
One of the strangest - and one of the best - books I've read in years. Hands down: if you like your fiction thoughtful, this book is certainly for you. Excellent.
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(1 of 2 readers found this comment helpful)
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Product Details

McCarthy, Tom
Vintage Books USA
Wiles, Will
Accident victims
Literature-A to Z
fiction;novel;memory;england;amnesia;debut;literature;london;21st century;2000s;literary fiction;british;surrealism
Edition Description:
Vintage Originals
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
8.02x5.24x.69 in. .65 lbs.

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Remainder (Vintage Originals) New Trade Paper
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Product details 304 pages Vintage Books USA - English 9780307278357 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

Would you trade memories for money? What if you didn't have a choice? If you didn't remember what caused your memory loss, how would you spend the settlement that resulted? In Tom McCarthy's Remainder, the unnamed man chooses to recapture imagined visions in an actual setting. He uses his settlement to recreate these images (a place, people, events) with the aid of hired help.

"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "McCarthy's debut novel, set in London, takes a clever conceit and pumps it up with vibrant prose to such great effect that the narrative's pointlessness is nearly a non-issue. The unnamed narrator, who suffers memory loss as the result of an accident that 'involved something falling from the sky,' receives an £8.5 million settlement and uses the money to re-enact, with the help of a 'facilitator' he hires, things remembered or imagined. He buys an apartment building to replicate one that has come to him in a vision and then populates it with people hired to re-enact, over and over again, the mundane activities he has seen his imaginary neighbors performing. He stages both ordinary acts (the fixing of a punctured tire) and violent ones (shootings and more), each time repeating the events many times and becoming increasingly detached from reality and fascinated by the scenarios his newfound wealth has allowed him to create even though he professes he doesn't 'want to understand them.' McCarthy's evocation of the narrator's absorption in his fantasy world as it cascades out of control is brilliant all the way through the abrupt climax." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review" by , "Tom McCarthy's first novel offers a vivid, subtle portrait of creeping madness."
"Review" by , "Londoner McCarthy delivers crisp, precise prose, though his offbeat tale might have been rendered in far fewer words."
"Review" by , "A stunningly strange book about the rarest of fictional subjects, happiness."
"Review" by , "Remainder is a beautifully strange and chilly book. Bloody, cold, and more tasty than you'd probably like to admit. It's a very smart yet completely unpretentious novel, and unlike anything else you're likely to read for quite some time."
"Review" by , "Remainder [is] more than an entertaining brain-teaser: it's a work of novelistic philosophy, as disturbing as it is funny."
"Review" by , " a book to be read and then reread, rich as it is with its insights, daring as it is with its contradictions."
"Review" by , "As in the best amnesiac stories...writer Tom McCarthy holds a wry, deadpan tone cleanly throughout. He helps things along by picking out just the right amount to detail."
"Synopsis" by , For fans of Nicholson Baker and Tom McCarthy, this British debut novel is brilliant, comically surreal entertainment about a housesitting gig gone terribly, hilariously wrong. Like Edgar Allen Poe scripting The Odd Couple, or if Kafkas The Trial had to do with home repair. Waterstones calls it "a black comedy about death, destruction, and interior decoration."
"Synopsis" by , A witty debut novel about a housesitting gig gone terribly, hilariously wrong.


A British copywriter stays for a week at his composer friend Oskars elegant, ultramodern apartment in a glum Eastern European city. The instructions are simple: feed the cats, dont touch the piano, and make sure nothing harms the priceless wooden floors. Content for the first time in ages, he accidentally spills some wine. Over the course of a week, both the apartment and the narrators sanity fall apart in this original and “weirdly addictive” (Daily Mail) novel.


As the situation in and out of the sleek apartment spirals out of control, more of Oskars notes appear, taking on an insistent—even sinister—tone. Care of Wooden Floors is a must-read for anyone whos ever bungled a housesitting gig, or felt inferior to a perfectionist friend—that is to say, all of us.

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