Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Review of "C" by Tom McCarthy

4.5 out of 5: Tom McCarthy's "C" is a brilliant and challenging novel. "C" follows the life of Serge Carrefax, beginning with his childhood in rural England and continuing as he leaves home to fight in World War I, returns to a drug-addled life in London, and finally travels to Egypt to pursue a job in communications. The novel lacks a traditional narrative arc, and the various segments of Serge's life are relatively unconnected to each other in a narrative sense. However, "C" has a strong inner network of recurring motifs and concepts that gives the book structure and cohesion. Throughout all his various adventures, Serge seeks something larger than himself. As a teenager experimenting with wireless communications, he is fascinated by the static that exists at the end of the radio range, which he views as evidence of a greater, unifying power. As Serge matures, he continues to look for the universal constant that holds everything together.

McCarthy peppers Serge's story with recurring motifs of insects, broken or fraudulent communication systems, machinery, and dismembered bodies. These dehumanizing symbols constantly work against Serge's desire to identify a kind of universal humanity, setting up a tension that is never resolved. "C" is not a typical novel with a traditional plot structure and is not likely to appeal to those readers looking for a traditional novel-reading experience. However, for readers interested in an intellectual challenge and willing to try something utterly original, "C" is the perfect choice.


Zibilee said...

I have been hearing a lot of buzz about this book, but didn't actually know much about it before your review. It sounds like it's a book that really requires a lot of attention and thought, and like something that I might like when I am looking for a deeper read. Thanks for the great review. I am going to be looking into this one!

Greg Zimmerman said...

I've been looking for a good "plain language" review of this much-buzzed book - so thank you! Very nicely reviewed. Is the challenge in reading simply from the fact that the different parts don't appear to connect except through the motifs, so you're not sure why parts of the story are being told, or how they're advancing the overarching plot? Or is there a better way to summarize why the novel is difficult? I've been really intrigued by this book since it showed up on the Man Booker shortlist. But haven't yet talked myself into pulling the trigger. Cheers!

Gwen Dawson said...

Greg, you're exactly right. This book is difficult because the various parts do not fit together in a traditional narrative sense. On its surface, the book appears disjointed, but the deeper concepts/motifs create a kind of submerged structure that is actually quite brilliant if one takes the time to recognize it. The prose is very easy to follow, however, so this book is not difficult in a language sense. I certainly recommend the book, but it takes some commitment/concentration to fully appreciate it.


S. Krishna said...

I'm glad you enjoyed this one. I'll definitely be reading it at some point.

nomadreader said...

I found this one delightful and challenging too. I'm glad to see someone else enjoying it!