The Smell of Frying Liver Drifting up from Downstairs

Daniel Soar

  • Remainder by Tom McCarthy
    Metronome, 274 pp, £6.00, October 2005, ISBN 2 916262 00 8

Some people won’t read novels. I understand. I’m close to not wanting to read novels myself: they’re trying, and often seem the same. But one thing all fiction guarantees is that it will describe a place that doesn’t exist: ideally, a place that bears some relation to the world you think you know but is larger, stranger, bolder and more promising. The rest – stories that never happened, about people who never existed – is immaterial. What is for me the most memorable novel of the last fifty years, Georges Perec’s Life: A User’s Manual, is endlessly valuable because of its infinite promise: Perec invented a Parisian apartment block and bisected it, as if it were a doll’s house, to describe lives that might have been lived in every one of its hundred rooms. The book’s construction depends on an elaborate pattern, but its central brilliance is trick-free: Paris, 1975, a particular building with cellars and garrets and stairways and salons and endless particular clutter.

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