Tom McCarthy, author of Remainder and Men in Space
Back in July, I did a five-part interview with Dan Hind (collected here). Doing the interview over the course of a week seemed to be very well received, so now it is time to do it again, this time with our pal the author Tom McCarthy (who I've interviewed before, of course).
Mark Thwaite: What gave you the idea for Men in Space, Tom?
Tom McCarthy: I lived in Prague in the early nineties, just after the Velvet Revolution. As though half-realising Plato’s vision of a philosopher-led state, this absurdist playwright, Havel, had come to power and filled parliament with his friends. The city was also a magnet for young would-be Bohemians from all over the world, and there were parties that went on for days, spilling from club to loft to opening to club again. Beyond the drunkenness, there was a real excitement, a sense that something new, a new Europe or new type of Europe, was emerging from the ruins of the Easter Bloc. A few years later, back in London, I wanted to write about it – or at least use it as the setting to write about something more entrenched. The image of the floating saint in the stolen icon painting that serves as the book’s ‘MacGuffin’ helped solidify some of the themes of regeneration and transcendence – or its failure – I was trying to get at; and of course the abandoned cosmonaut who doubles him in ‘contemporary’ (rather than ‘archaic’) time, orbiting above the stratosphere while the ex-Soviet states argue who should bring him down, did the same. These things came together slowly, though. There was no single Eureka-moment, like there was with Remainder when I got struck by deja-vu while looking at a crack and the whole novel was there in half an hour.
MT: How long did it take you to write it?
TM: I finished a version of it before writing Remainder, a really long time ago. Fourth Estate were going to publish that version, but the editor got blocked from above, and then the same thing happened at a couple more big publishers; so I put it aside and wrote Remainder. After that book took off I looked at the manuscript with Alessandro Gallenzi of Alma Books here and Marty Asher of Vintage in New York and we decided we’d do it. But by this time it was pretty old, and I wanted to rework it thoroughly before putting it out; so I spent the first three months of this year heavily rewriting, cutting loads and adding new stuff. So, to answer your question, it was written over two and a half years seven years ago and three months seven months ago. Got that?
MT: What is it about Central Europe at the moment just after the Soviet Union collapsed that you find so fascinating?
TM: An order of things disintegrating, all the old parameters being stripped away, or, to put it in drier philosophical terms, a grand narrative being fragmented (which, for the philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard, is the defining feature of the ‘postmodern’). It’s the vertigo, the exhilaration, the terror and the expectation – not to mention the eventual disappointment: they wanted The Republic and got Starbucks.