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.