Book review: The Remainder

The Remainder

The Remainder
by  Alia Trabucco Zerán
Translated from the Spanish by
Sophie Hughes
And Other Stories
Originally published as La Resta
in 2014
Genre: Literary fiction
193 pages


I just reviewed a book with messed up characters. The next book I finished reading for Man Booker International 2019 has definitely its share of it. But The Remainder is much more accessible and offers some fascinating literary elements.

First of all, the chapters go from 11 to 0, and they are interspersed with unnumbered chapters marked (    ). And this fits beautifully with the story of Felipe, as he tries to collect or rather subtract the number of dead bodies in his world.
We gradually realize that Felipe, his sister Iquela, and her friend Paloma, have experienced dramatic events in their younger years, when their parents were part of a revolutionary faction in Chile. The siblings’ father died, living her wife confused and afraid of everything around her.  The children have been reacting in different ways.
Felipe, the “feral” son obsessed with the dead or the living-dead, is suffering with some major psychological issues. This is very well conveyed in the chapters he narrates in the first person. The beautiful translation makes us inhabit his confused mind, with long sentences and sparse punctuation reflecting his stream of consciousness, and written in a conversational style with repetitive verbal tics.
As for Iquela, her own first person narration in the (    ) chapters, is more refined. But she definitely has her own issues, and hasn’t found her place in the world, apart from being in her mother’s daily worries.

When Paloma’s mother dies, the girl tries to have Ingrid’s body shipped to Chile, but because of a huge ash rain, the plane is redirected to Argentina, and the three young people decide to go there together to try to find the coffin. Their most unusual road trip will reveal Paloma’s own problems!

I wasn’t aware that volcanic ash rains were somewhat common events in Chile. This has already happened several times in the last twenty years, according to my research. Beside the natural explanation, I found it to be a great image of the high level of toxicity present in the life of the three characters, with its climax in the last chapter of the book.

The language and writing style are definitely the strongest points of the book.
It also contains funny plays with words, for instance with Spanish as a second language, as Paloma grew up in Germany. I also liked some unique and fascinating views of language. This passage illustrate both points:

Remainder p43

page 43

I would highly recommend this book to experience a unique style in literary fiction.

Should it be on the MB12019 shortlist? 
Yes please!

5/20/2019 update: having read 12 of the books, I would like it to be the winner tomorrow.

VERDICT: A unique literary approach, beautifully served by an outstanding translation.

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Any other great Chilean author you know?



4 thoughts on “Book review: The Remainder

  1. Pingback: Man Booker International Prize 2019 shortlist | Words And Peace

  2. Pingback: Year of reading 2019: Part 1 – My top 18 | Words And Peace

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