Remainder by Tom McCarthy (Shane's book 37, 2010)

I had this on my reading list before McCarthy was nominated for the Booker Prize for his most recent novel, C. Remainder is its predecessor. It's the story of a man who receives more than £8 million in compensation after an accident that left him in a coma, scrambled his memory and required him to re-learn how to walk.

[amtap book:isbn=1846880416]

The narrator, who is never named, is initially unsure about how to spend his money but he becomes obsessed with a snippet of memory - a apartment block, a neighbour practicing piano, another cooking liver, cats on the roof opposite - and decides to use his money to recreate that moment.

He hires Time Control UK, a company that specialises in managing special projects, and works closely with Naz, a fastidious bureaucrat who seems to be able to make anything happen. They search for an apartment building, dress it to look exactly like the one in the narrator's memory and hire actors to work in it. The narrator has them re-run the memory over and over again, revelling in the joy of repetition.

It seems that the only time our protagonist can feel happy or even satisfied is when recreating one of these moments. He delights in breaking actions down to their smallest parts, just as he had to when he was re-learning to walk.

He expands from the apartment building to recreate a garage, a street shooting and a hypothetical bank robbery. Searching for bigger and bigger thrills each time and gradually, it seems to the reader, losing his ability to distinguish reproduction from reality. In fact, he comes to feel that only the reproductions have true authenticity.

It's an interesting book but one that's hard to connect with. Though we see through the main character's eyes, we learn very little about him because his motives are seemingly mysterious even to him and he barely relates to any other character except to order them to carry out his whims.

Though his mania clearly deepens as the book progresses, the story doesn't really develop in any other way and McCarthy has to swing almost into genre fiction to provide an ending. Remainder has its moments but I found it unsatisfying.