The Warehouse Is Still Running

9 June 2007

Best line overheard on the street this week:
'but you were kissing a girl, you were kissing a girl, I saw you kissing a girl'.


"I want you to slow it down… Everything slower, much much slower. As slow as it can be. In fact you should hardly move at all."

Seems like I've been endlessly recommending Tom McCarthy's novel Remainder to people that I've bumped into, so now I'm extending that process here. The narrator is a man made super-rich overnight with the compensation pay-out that follows an accident involving "something falling from the sky". He soon puts his fortune to work orchestrating re-enactments – initially of banal scenes from his own past. The reconstructions change shape, scale and ambition but often involve the purchase, alteration and re-decoration of entire buildings, as well as the continuos employment of many actors/re-enactors, and technical people, on call 24 hours a day to (for example) be 'the lady that passes him on the stairwell whilst taking out her trash', or to be in the team shoving reluctant cats out of cages onto a neighbouring roof at particular moments to complete that all important detail in the picture.

There's some Ballard in there (= obsessive slow motion and staring at the texture of concrete) but also an enjoyable reminder of what I liked about Tibor Fischer's The Thought Gang – a kind of boisterous but somehow deadpan approach to narrative, full-on absurdity in no-nonsense prose. Like Fischer's book Remainder is good in the plot department (which Ballard never was/is) and Tom's book is great on people too – the narrators enthusiastic facilitator/assistant Naz is a terrific foil to the protagonist, comical and otherwise.

You're never quite sure what the narrator is chasing in Remainder but whatever he seeks to reconstruct it's not long before his interest moves on. I'm still haunted by the image of him ordering one complex re-enactment in a warehouse, with three teams working shifts around the clock, so that he can visit it any time day or night. He drops by a few times and is pleased with the work but soom gets preoccupied and somehow neglects to stop the warehouse. It's weeks later that the ever-efficient Naz reminds him 'The warehouse.. The warehouse is still running'. Very nice.