In a powerful scene in the middle of The Remainder, Felipe remembers how, as an orphan of about ten or twelve, he ran away from home. Picked up by the police, he is taken to the station and asked his name. The policeman makes a call to check, then puts down the phone, red-faced and angry. ‘Impossible,’ he shouts, ‘Felipe Arrabal is presumed dead.’ Felipe bears the same name as his father.
The scene sums up the novel’s central theme: Felipe feels dead, like his lost father, who is ‘presumed dead’. Even his name is not his own. He and Iquela, who narrate the novel in alternating chapters, live in post-Pinochet Chile. Children of left-wing activists, they cannot escape the pain of the past. You have your mother’s eyes, Iquela is told in an innocuous comment. No, they’re mine, mine, mine, she screams.