Although the novel is about the long shadow of the dictatorship, it is allusive rather than obviously political... [A]part from ambition, the other great quality of the novel is its lyricism. There are several scenes that could have been anodyne but stick in the mind because of the beauty of the images and the writing. Trabucco’s detail is sharp and colourful, contrasting well with her characters’ furious attempts to come to terms with the past. The Remainder is well translated (the frequent wordplay makes this difficult) and stimulating. Although not fully realised, the novel grapples skilfully with a complex subject.
You could call The Remainder a literary kaleidoscope: look at it one way and you see how the past lays a crippling hand on the generation that follows political catastrophe; shift the focus and you’re plunged into a darkly comic road trip with a hungover trio in an empty hearse chasing a lost coffin across the Andes cordillera... This is Alia Trabucco Zerán’s first novel, and winner of a PEN prize. Her spring-heeled prose moves lightly from lyrical to demotic, bawdy to elegiac. She brings the trio touchingly to life. The final chapter, as Felipe cuts free of reality to find wings, has a soaring ecstasy that comes closer to anything I can recall to describing how it feels to fly like bird.
Zerán’s elegiac novel deals less in narrative than sensation, and the loss or lack thereof... The reader is repeatedly stalled in their attempts to build up a coherent narrative of the characters’ past... It is also a symptom of the fact that neither the characters nor the narrative ever deal directly with the historic events themselves, but rather with the fallout – the photographs, vocabulary, places and people left behind as remnants. Zerán seamlessly alternates between the voices of Iquela and Felipe, highlighting the opposing and gendered ways they have reacted to the circumstances of their childhood...The Remainder could be framed as a road-trip novel, but it is anything but expansive in its scope. Scenes take place almost exclusively in confined spaces... Any hint of beauty seems to overwhelm utterly, and provokes anxiety... we leave feeling more aware of our limits, our past and our interior life.
To describe Alia Trabucco Zerán’s debut novel as “dark” would be like calling the Arctic nippy. Much of it is set during an ash storm which renders everything grey and blots out the scenery, if not the anguish...Despite the political backdrop, The Remainder tells us very little about Chile under Pinochet; but everything about what it is like to grow up in the shadow of other people’s unhappiness.