Friday, January 21, 2011

C by Tom McCarthy

CTitle: C
Author: Tom McCarthy
Pages: 320
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!)


  1. I've checked this out of the library a couple of times, but have only read a few pages. It is definitely not my cup of tea. I don't have the patience to crack the code!

  2. I want to read it, but have no idea if I will like it. Your review certainly makes it intriguing for me.

  3. Just an interesting side note... one of the very well known, and successful rare book shops near me is selling a first edition of this book. Apparently they think it's going to be worth something. I though that was surprising considering it was JUST released (relatively speaking for a rare books store) and I imagine many people have a first edition.

  4. Anbolyn, I enjoyed the first part a lot, but it seems that most people feel like it really picks up after the first 100 pages. Although if you've already checked it out a couple of times, you've probably put enough effort into it!

    Em, I'd love to hear what you think about it if (when?) you read it. (Also, side note, was exploring your blog and see that you were born in Brittany and are living in Ireland--what a great cultural mix!)

    Wallace, that seems so bizarre to me! I keep hearing things like that about this book though. The only thing I can figure is that C must be a rare treat if you are lover of the experimental and symbolic.

  5. Absolutely loved this book (in fact reviewed it myself). Do you think the brilliance & clarity were at points in his life that had such perspective, for example his childhood with his adored sister (she was one bright flame), I loved the prose when he was flying, the descriptions of the opposing combatants were fantastic. I also found the sceance scene funny. Just realised whilst writing this that the "scenes of clarity" seem to be around the points he had feminine presence in his world, could this have any bearing, based on how strong a figure his sister was when he was young & the impact her death had on him. I enjoyed your impressions on the book, even if I didn't agree with them all it gave me another perspective to re-evaluate my own. Thanks
    Ps. Would you try another McCarthy, or has this put you off.

  6. Parrish, I just went and read your review--nicely done! I really think that my main problem with C is that I didn't have enough patience for the subtlety of the symbolism. It's a book that I think benefits from discussion--at least for me.

    It was pretty interesting how Sophie was such a huge influence on Serge's life, even though he didn't seem to ever fully realize that, whereas his parents were rather unimportant. You are right, the really clear, bright part were the scenes that had feminine presence. Interesting.

    This hasn't put me off McCarthy at all. It has kept me thinking about it, which is a quality that I value more than being simply entertained while reading. Is there another book of his that you would recommend?

  7. This was my least favorite of the Indie Lit group. Like you mentioned in the above comment, I don't think I had the patience for it. Also, after the first one hundred pages I was ready to quit. Actually, I did quit. I may never forgive Ti for talking me into finishing. :-D

  8. I posted my review yesterday. I actually sort of liked it after the first half but I didn't mind decoding it once I got the rhythm of it.

  9. It's "when", although I'm not sure when "when" will be!
    Thanks for your explorations. Yes, I'm in Ireland and my celtic roots make me feel at home here. I love it, but I don't know what the future holds in store for me...


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