Every now and then, in the depressing mass-market orientated and behemoth-dominated publishing world of today, we hear a story of rightly-earned success and true talent duly vindicated. Tom McCarthy’s quick rise from cult-novelist to the big-time scene couldn’t offer a better example. His debut novel, Remainder, had been sent around to the usual suspects of the UK’s publishing establishment, and although many editors loved it, sales and marketing departments were sceptical about its commercial potential. As a consequence, it never saw the light of day.
But as it’s a well-known fact that no prophet is honoured in his own country, McCarthy didn’t give up, and sent a copy of the manuscript to underground French publisher Metronome Press – a latter-day equivalent of legendary ’50s publisher Olympia Press – who fell in love with it and decided to take the risk and publish it. Without any real marketing, publicity or distribution beyond the art circuit, and with a modest print-run of 750 copies, it made its tortuous way into the wide, wide world – yet, somehow, rave reviews started to pour in from the most prestigious UK magazines and newspapers, like the TLS, the London Review of Books and the Independent, who even argued about the “classic status” of this book.
In the meantime, Jonny Pegg of Curtis Brown, who had championed the author from the very beginning and made it his mission to have this book published by a good UK publisher, sent it to new independent publisher Alma Books. Within a couple of weeks, Alma snapped up the UK rights for Remainder and planned an immediate release, just in time for the 2006 Man Booker Prize submission.
Alma has an uncanny habit of such timely strikes – they bought the UK rights to William T Vollmann’s Europe Central just before it won the high-profile National Book Award for Fiction in the US, and they went for two Paola Kaufmann novels, The Sister and The Lake, just before the former landed the prestigious Casa del las Américas Prize and the latter took the Planeta Prize.
When things started to look good for Remainder in the UK, Jonny Pegg also received an offer from US publishing giant Vintage. Somehow they had heard about the book through the publishing grapevine, and after getting hold of one of the last (and now almost collectable) Metronome copies, Vintage’s Editor in Chief Marty Asher got so enthusiastic about the novel that he decided to take up personal editorship of it. ‘Remainder is a complete original. A novel so strange and unpredictable that once I started it, dishes went unwashed, cats unfed, work stopped until I got to the end, which was both surprising and inevitable. It’s a stunningly accomplished piece of work which defies categorization and which Vintage is thrilled to be publishing.’
The strange rags-to-riches fate of Remainder echoes that of its nameless protagonist, whose life takes a strange turn after he’s hit by a never fully explained object falling from the sky and receives a fortune in compensation – money which he puts to increasingly psychotic effect, paying for his own memories to be reconstructed and replayed in microscopic detail.
And the title? “The hero, his body and his mind are a remainder, what the accident leaves,” explains McCarthy. “The world he reconstructs is a remainder, made up of fragments left over from his ideal ‘remembered’ world. And I love the provocation of calling a book Remainder.”
Alma publisher Alessandro Gallenzi is jubilant at the coup: “This is a major catch, and together with Anthony McCarten’s Death of a Superhero will make for a very strong Alma Books submission to the 2006 Booker.”
REMAINDER by Tom McCarthy
ISBN: 1-84688-015-7, Hardback, £10.99, 336 pp.
Publication Date: July 2006
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