Author: Tom McCarthy
Published: 2010 Knopf
Read For: Indie Lit Awards Short List
My Rating: 3 stars
Have you ever seen one of those movies, or perhaps read a book, where the tone of the writing directly represents the lucidity and mental well-being of the main character? This is the case with C, I believe, as it follows Serge Carrefax's life in its different stages.
The details of Serge's life, however, are not the driving force of the book. The driving force, if you were to claim that C has one, is more in the symbolism, the recurring motifs, the themes. If you enjoy a puzzle, cracking the code, then you will find much to love in this book. If you are looking for something plot driven, Serge's story is likely to leave you bored. If you are looking for something character driven, expect to be frustrated, as Serge is a rather two-dimensional character. He has issues with perspective. If you are looking to be wowed by the writing, be prepared to do some work peeling back some of the layers first.
I appreciate that McCarthy tests the boundaries of what a novel should look like. I think that it is important in the evolution of literature that some authors take chances on new ideas, different structures, and original ways to express ideas. Still, C didn't necessarily work for me, mostly because I'm not up to cracking the code in order to be able to enjoy the message (the prose itself is not difficult to read, the difficulty is in making the prose have meaning). The parts of the book that I enjoyed the most were the sections that had some brilliancy and clarity: much of his childhood, the seance scenes, the health spa. The other parts, the sections that seemed to exist mainly as a medium to contain the symbolism, were more of a chore for me to read, and the ending just sort of faded into the static. Here's an interesting quote to ponder:
He begins to tell Serge what it is he does, but Serge ignores the content of his speech, trying all the while to place his accent. That he can't do so isn't due to any sociological failing on his part, but rather to a growing acoustic strangeness overtaking him: all dialogues and tones have sounded foreign since he left the Ani, as though his aural apparatus had been thrown off-kilter by the land's vibrations.
As far as the Indie Lit Awards go, I find it interesting to have a short list with such great variety. C is almost opposite of Room in many respects, with Great House falling somewhere in between, which makes the discussion about Literary Fiction that much more fun. (Reviews on Major Pettigrew's Last Stand and Safe From the Sea coming soon!)