Thursday, March 1, 2007


Tom McCarthy is known for the reports, manifestos, and media interventions he has made as General Secretary of the International Necronautical Society (INS), a semi-fictitious avant-garde network.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his first novel, Remainder, and reported the following:
A Page 69 Test seems like a great idea to me. 69 is the year I was born, and Remainder is a book about origins and reiterations: of events, memories, environments and, most of all, traumas. Like Faulkner says in Absalom, Absalom!: 'Nothing ever happens once and is finished.'

Remainder's premise is simple: an unnamed Everyman has suffered an accident about which all he'll say is that 'it involved something falling from the sky.' He's received £8.5 million in compensation for this, on condition he not speak about it. After having to relearn how to move, talk and generally interact with the world, he feels that all his gestures and experiences are acquired, second-hand, 'fake'. Completely unseduced by options such as philanthropy or hedonism, he decides to use his fortune to hire architects, designers, actors, back-up people and back-up-back-up people to reconstruct and replay a vague memory he has of being in an apartment building - for no other reason than that it seems to him that it was at this time and in this space, whenever and wherever it was, that he was most 'real'.

With the help of Nazrul Ram Vyas of Time Control, a 'facilitating' company, the hero sets up his elaborate film-set-without-the-film, and has mundane domestic moments replayed on a loop for his own pleasure. Soon, he starts upping the ante, demanding that more violent ur-events such as shootouts and hold-ups be re-enacted. At one point he even sets out to re-enact the setting-up of his last re-enactment. I love the idea of framing one scene within another, endlessly regressive. It goes all the way back to Shakespeare, who shows us a bunch of Greeks sitting around watching Greek theatre in 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'. There's another tie in with McLuhan (originator of the 'Page 69 Test') there: according to him, 'The content of each medium is the previous medium...'

Here's page 69 of Remainder in its entirety:

stretchy dresses screeching into mobiles, white girls queuing outside the Dogstar, chewing gum and smoking at the same time. They all came and went – people, lights, colours, noise – on the periphery of my attention. I walked slowly, with the strip of wallpaper, thinking of the room, the flat, the world I’d just remembered.

I was going to recreate it: build it up again and live inside it. I’d work outwards from the crack I’d just transcribed. The plaster round the crack was pinky-grey, all grooved and wrinkled from when it had been smeared on. There’d been a patch of blue paint just above it, to the left (its right), and, one or two feet to the left of that, a patch of yellow. I’d noted this down, but could remember it exactly anyway: left just above it blue then two more feet and yellow. I’d be able to recreate the crack back in my own flat – smear on the plaster and then add the colours; but my bathroom wasn’t the right shape. It had to be the same shape and same size as the one David’s had made me remember, with the same bathtub with its older, different taps, the same slightly bigger window. And it had to be on the fifth, sixth or seventh floor. I’d need to buy a new flat, one high up.

And then the neighbours. They’d been all packed in around me – below, beside and above. That was a vital part of it. The old woman who cooked liver on the floor below, the pianist two floors below her, running through his fugues and his sonatas, practising – I’d have to make sure they were there too. The concierge as well, and all the other, more anonymous neighbours: I’d have to buy a whole building, and fill it with people who’d behave just as I told them to.

And then the view across! The cats, the black cats on the red roofs of the building facing the back of mine across the
Read an excerpt from Remainder.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Series.