Excerpt: Tom McCarthy's C

Here's a book you won't be seeing on the Oprah Book Club list anytime soon..

& not because it's written bya Brit', mind you.. Oprah's recommended Ian McEwan's Solar just this April, and I bet it wasn't the only Brit' Novel on her favorite books list..  

No, Tom McCarthy's C won't appear on Oprah's book club anytime soon because it's a challanging, postmodern'ish read!

It did however make as one of the six finalists on the 42nd Man Booker Prize shortlist - the leading literary award in the English speaking world. Which is saying much! 

Indeed, the Brits are currenlty placing the highest betting odds with C, favouring it above all other books - and now that David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet and Christos Tsiolkas's The Slap are out (the first was reviewed by the Excerpt Reader last July; the latter will be reviewed in this blog very soon..) it may very well be the most favorite contender - yet I'm not sure how many people have heard of it so far (outside Great Britain that is..)

A well acclaimed novelist, literary critic (in Tintin and the Secret of Literature he reads Herge's Tintin through the prism of structuralist and post-structuralist literary theory) and conceptual artist, as well as "the most galling interviewee in Britain" - C is McCarthy's third novel, after Remainder - a literary Memento of sorts, about the loss and recapture of identity - and Men in Space, a dystopian tale of social ruin. It may very well be his easiest read thus far; though, to be sure, it could just as easily be classified by most literary critics as an avantgarde, postmodern novel..

Despite the intriguing cover (and the American cover, just on your left, is no less beguiling than the British one, placed below;) and albeit its odd, single-letter title, C is, in essence, quite an 'esoteric' novel. 

Above all, for the way it treats its subjectswar, sickness and death and, of course, communication (that's what the C, amongst other things, stands for: good, old fashioned communication between individuals, but also  futuristic, cutting edge technological communication: wireless communication, the kind that will bring on, many decades later, the modem and then the World wide web..)

Set in early twentieth century pre-war Europe, C follows the short, intense life of one Serge Carrefax, who finds himself from an early age steeped in a weird world of technological developments (Serge's father is an aspiring scientist leading experiments with electrical fields). When loss strikes him when his beloved sister dies, Serge embarks on an epic journey encompassing the prison camps of Germany, the drug-fuelled London of the roaring twenties and, finally, the ancient tombs of Egypt in what quickly shapes up to be a stunning tour de force of √©criture.

Once, he picked up a CQD: a distress signal. It came from the Atlantic, two hundred or so miles off Greenland. ThePachitea, merchant vessel of the Peruvian Steamship Company, had hit an object—maybe whale, maybe iceberg—and was breaking up. The nearest vessel was another South American, Acania, but it was fifty miles away. Galway had picked the call up; so had Le Havre, Malin, Poldhu and just about every ship between Southampton and New York. Fifteen minutes after Serge had locked onto the signal half the radio bugs in Europe had tuned into it as well. The Admiralty put a message out instructing amateurs to stop blocking the air. Serge ignored the order, but lost the signal beneath general interference: the atmospherics were atrocious that night. He listened to the whine and crackle, though, right through till morning—and heard, or thought he heard, among its breaks and flecks, the sound of people treading cold, black water, their hands beating small disturbances into waves that had come to bury them.
* You can read the rest of the excerpt here.

Yes, it all sounds very adventure-novel'esque, but the writing itself, (McCarthy's elegant prose is often dense with emotion, information and constant interruption - very stream of thought..) is quite challenging. Luckily, like any challenging read, C is also a highly rewarding read. 
VERDICT: BUY IT (If only to walk about town with the alluring hard-cover, single-letter cover under your arm)

1 comment:

  1. A very interesting review. Yes, I agree, C is certainly a dense read: fascinatingly dense. Mine is the British edition, which is a beautiful thing in itself.