23 January 2011


I remembered that my windscreen washer reservoir was empty and I asked him for some fill-up. [...] Before I drove off I pushed the windscreen spurter button to make sure it worked. Liquid should have squired out onto the glass, but nothing happened. I pushed it some more. Still nothing. I got out, opened the bonnet again and checked the reservoir. It was empty.

"It's all gone!" I said.

The boys peered in. The oldest one got down on his knees and looked under the car.

"There's no patch," he said. "It hasn't leaked. It should be there." He turned to the middling boy and said: "Go get another bottle."

Another bottle was brought out and poured into the reservoir. Once more I climbed inside the car and pressed the spurter button. Once more nothing happened--and once more, when we looked inside the reservoir, we found it empty.

"Two litres!" I said. "Where has it all gone?"

They'd vaporized, evaporated. And do you know what? It felt wonderful. Don't ask me why: it just did. It was as though I'd just witnessed a miracle: matter--these two litres of liquid--becoming un-matter--not surplus matter, mess or clutter, but pure, bodiless blueness. Transubstantiated. I looked up at the sky: it was blue and endless. I looked back at the boy. His overalls and face were covered in smears. He'd taken on these smears so that the miracle could happen, like a Christian martyr being flagellated, crucified, scrawled over with stigmata. I felt elated--elated and inspired.

"If only..." I started, but paused.

"What?" he asked.

"If only everything could..."

I trailed off again. I knew what I meant. I stood there looking at his grubby face and told him:

"Thank you."

Then I got into the car and turned the ignition key in its slot. The engine caught--and as it did, a torrent of blue liquid burst out of the dashboard and cascaded down. It gushed from the radio, the heating panel, the hazard-lights switch and the speedometer and mileage counter. It gushed all over me: my shirt, my legs, my groin.

The brilliance of Tom McCarthy's Remainder lies not in the way it is written, but in the way it writes the reader. One must usually come upon books at the right time in life in order to get the most out of them. How this typically happens is a mysterious combination of instinct, guesswork, and rereading. Remainder, however, manages to create a perfect space for itself, and by the time one has finished reading it, one's life has become right for the book. Reality has become one with fiction, realizing the book's theme in a way that many of Tom McCarthy's predecessors did not, uncovering the sublime where once there was only gimmick.

They're like bunnies in headlights: frozen. You step in and move them gently away from the counters, get them to lie down. You use their shock to create a... bridge, a... a suspension in which you can operate. A little enclave, a defile.
One of the images that appeared in an image search for "scale model of London".

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