Mike Interviews: Tom McCarthy Part 2 of 3

Mike Interviews

Part 1 of the interview can be found here.

Win a signed hardback copy of Men in Space here.

How did you feel about Metronome's response, "If people want it, they can go to the ICA." to Waterstones request to stock Remainder?

Metronome Press was an art project, run by two curators, launched firmly from within the art world and its networks. Having one foot in that world myself, I'd noticed that that was the environment in which people actually read proper literature rather than the latest Booker/Richard-and-Judy crap. So I was happy for them to take that stance. Perhaps at the time I wasn't, but in retrospect I thought it was pretty cool; and as it worked out, bigger publishers would bring out their own editions of Remainder later and put them in Waterstones and every other shop. The Metronome edition was just a limited run thing anyway.

The title of your first book "Remainder", is the same term used for books returned by retailers that are not sold. Was this an intentional joke on your behalf and how confident were you that the book would sell?

I was aware of the bookselling connotation of the term 'remainder', and liked it, but it wasn't the main one. I was thinking mainly of residues, marks, traces, things left behind; also the half in the eight-and-a-half million pound settlement the hero receives. I had no idea if the book would sell a lot or not; the question didn't cross my mind. What interested me was the kind of critical response it would get.

Whilst reading "Remainder", I was reminded of Mark Haddon's book, "The Curious Incident of The Dog in the Night-Time", which deals with a boy who has autism. I was struck by the similarity of how someone with autism sees everything in minute detail and how your main character similarly tries to reconstruct his memories with a fanatical attention to detail. Mark says that he didn't do any research and just wrote from the voice of his character in his head. How did you approach this with your character?

I read some books about trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder,and interviewed two people who'd been in bad accidents. But my character's main impulse - to repeat and reconstruct - was there right from the outset.

In your acknowledgments in your new book, 'Men in Space', you say the manuscript 'started as a series of disjointed, semi- autobiographical sketches.' Is it mainly through the character, Nicholas Boardaman that these autobiographical bits are revealed, or did your experiences colour each of the main characters?

I knew all of those people, really well. Nick is the one who most corresponds to myself - but they're all based on people who were in Prague in the early nineties.

What made you decide not to split the book up into chapters?

It's split into sections, but rather than divide them by numbers I put five stars in between each, which is a motif from the book. I think I had in mind the way Pynchon divides the sections of Gravity's Rainbow with those holes you get at the edge of strips of film.

Read the final part of this interview tomorrow.

For part 3 click here.

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