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C [Hardcover]

McCARTHY Tom
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I'm not sure I C what he's doing. Aug. 13 2011
By Paolo TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
C is for Serge Carrefax who is, I guess, what passes for the hero in this tale of the son of a wealthy family whose patriarch runs a school that teaches deaf children how to speak. Set in the early 1900s the book is split into four sections that deal with his adolescence and his intense relationship with his sister, his teenage years at a spa in Central Europe to treat his unexplained build up of what historically would have been called black bile, his young adulthood as a spotter/navigator in the budding air force of the First World War and finally his life in Egypt as the representative of the murky Empire Wireless Chain scrambling to deal with an country in the throes of a struggle for independence.

If C is for Carrefax then it is also for communication as a strong theme that runs through the novel. As a child Serge is fascinated by CB radio, tracking the beeps and background noises he picks up on the waves. His father is also interested in communications and as he experiments with an ammeter he believes that the world reverberates to the echoes of past conversations and thoughts, what he believes makes up white noise and that if it was possible to isolate the individual strands of thought and expression then one might be able to listen to the words Jesus said on the cross.

Tom McCarthy is an unusual author whose own pretensions to avant-gardism and involvement in the semi-fictional (whatever that might mean) group the International Necronautical Society makes me think he is either an interesting and boundary pushing author or someone whose head has been sucked in by the vortex created in the general area of his backside. This is certainly not a book without flaws as the plotting is patchy and the last quarter is disappointing, ending on more of a whimper than a bang.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars C is for clever Oct. 9 2010
Format:Hardcover
Emotions don't start with c, and you won't find them here. But if you like unexpected connections between thoughts, objects and any other entities, you will probably find this original perspective on the fictional Serge Carrefax's multi-faceted life in the early 20th century a very entertaining read. I did.
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Amazon.com: 3.2 out of 5 stars  71 reviews
86 of 89 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Central Character Is A Cypher of Curious Detachment Aug. 31 2010
By K. Harris - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I actively sought out Tom McCarthy's "C" based on the reputation of his previous work "Remainder" as well as the initial rapturous reviews from England. I truly expected to love "C!" But while I admired the effort and I found the middle section enthralling, ultimately I was left a little cold. More of a postmodern experiment than a conventional novel, McCarthy's work will certainly fire the synapses of your brain--but as an intellectual and literary exercise, I'm not sure that it will touch your heart. To be fair, I don't think it was McCarthy's intention to go anywhere near the territory of "heart touching," but I just wanted to offer up a alternate viewpoint (and I'm sure I'll be crucified for it--start your negative campaign now) for more casual readers.

"C" is not particularly concerned with conventional narrative or characterizations. In fact, Serge Carrefax--the central character--is a blank slate cypher who observes the world more than he understands it. One of the things I most enjoyed about "C" is that McCarthy oftentimes gives us clues about important aspects of Serge's life that he is completely oblivious of--and thus, these things never get discussed or developed in any tangible way. It's an ingenious device that both amused me but kept the novel aloof. "C" follows Serge from birth, through his relationship with his troubled sister, to a recuperative health spa, to his experiences in the war, to his homecoming as an adult, to his sojourn to Egypt. Each section is relatively stand-alone, developing on its own topics and ideas. Once Serge leaves home to start discovering the world, I started getting into the rhythm and cadence of McCarthy's prose and I was fully hooked until the final sequence in Egypt. Instead of reaffirming what I had admired about the book, its denseness only served to distance me from it irrevocably.

Much discussion has centered around the meaning of the title "C" as it references many plot points or themes within the work. I think that it is fair to say that connectivity and communication are developed throughout "C" as central thesis points, and as such, it's odd that I'd end up feeling curiously detached at the novel's conclusion. Once again, there is much ambition and intelligence at work here and, in no way, would I discourage someone who is intrigued by this work to avoid it. But know what you're getting into! I have no doubt that "C" will continue to be embraced--I just wanted to counter with my opinion that "C" was ultimately easier for me to admire than it was to love.
27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Quintessential Literary Fiction Sept. 5 2010
By Nicole Del Sesto - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
C is not so much as story as a series of eclectic snapshots of the life of Serge Carrefax. These snapshots seem to include tidbits of information about things the author surely must be interested in. Things like, the making of silk, teaching the deaf to speak (and perform Greek tragedies), the mechanics of WWI, wireless communications (i.e. Marconi, not the iPhone), Egypt, etc. There's a lot of scientific explanation and detail, which for the most part was very interesting. If feels, to me, a bit like Serge was created so the author had a vehicle to express his varied interests. I'm not criticizing that, by the way, just expressing an opinion.

It's certainly well written. There are moments of sheer brilliance and perfection.

There's a part during the war where Serge's leader is telling him that a mission is being undertaken, by "tunnelers" to lay explosives underneath enemy trenches. They are concerned that the Germans are perhaps performing the same task even further down.

McCarthy writes:

"Serge becomes fascinated with these tunnelers, these moles. He pictures their noses twitching as they alternatively dig and strap on stethoscopes that, pressing to the ground, they listen through for sounds of netherer moles undermining their undermining. If they did hear them doing this, he tells himself, then they could dig an even lower tunnel, undermine the under-undermining: on and on forever, or at least for as long as the volume and mass of the globe allowed it--until the earth gave over to a molten core, or, bypassing this, they emerged in Australia to find there was no war there ...."

A strange book, you get hints of character's eccentricity, but I'm not sure you ever fully know any of the characters. Even Serge. Also, a number of characters are unceremoniously dumped, never to be heard from again. That's part of the "snapshot" thing, but it left me wondering, but what about...? There's some great humor in this book, but no emotion. Which I find so odd, because there are parts which would ordinarily be emotional. There were times I was enthralled and times not so much. Oddly (for me), I found the war parts the most engaging, and the Egyptian part the least so.

A really interesting read.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clever, intriguing and funny - this is a terrific book Sept. 8 2010
By Ripple - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
"C" follows the life of Serge Carrefax. Set in the early part of the twentieth century, the reader encounters Serge at various key moments in his life and each of these is quite fascinating and engrossingly related. It's one of those books that is like Dr Who's Tardis - so much happens that when he recalls an earlier part of his life, I found myself thinking `oh yes, that was in this book too, wasn't it?' The book has been described as post-structuralist but don't let that literary labelling put you off. Yes, it's a complex book that can be read at many levels, (and one which I know I'll come back to), but it's completely readable and not at all `difficult'.

You will probably be wondering what does "C" stand for? Well, so am I and I've finished the book! There are a lot of contenders - perhaps it stands simply for Carrefax, but it could also stand for Communication, as this features throughout the book. C also features at one point as a symbol for a place where it's possible to buy Cocaine. Symbols are another recurring theme. McCarthy likes his recurring themes and images. Or perhaps C stands for something else entirely....

Serge (English father and deaf French mother) is born into a house in rural England that serves both as a silk production factory and a school for the deaf. His father is obsessed with experimental wireless communication. If you start there, it's not too surprising that your life is going to be a little strange - and his early life is filled with cryptic signals of various kinds. But it's all very grounded in reality.

Later, following a personal tragedy, Serge finds himself in an East European spa before the next time we meet him serving in the Air Force as a radio operator in World War One. Although we jump from stage to stage in his life, each one is so perfectly told and beautifully described, there's no discordant sense to the reading experience. The descriptions of what it felt like to be an early aviator in the Great War are frighteningly real. If you enjoyed Sebastian Faulks' Birdsong, then you will find equal terror here above ground. It's here that drugs start to appear as cocaine is used to heighten the eyesight of aviators.

Drugs remain on the scene upon his return to 1920s London and weird communication and signals again re-appear with public seances as bereaved parents seek to contact their lost sons. Finally Serge finds himself again in communication, this time in Egypt.

If this all sounds rather deep or dry, fear not. There's plenty of humour too. Discussing losses to friendly fire and experimental flying during his stationing in France in the War, "Serge, chewing on his omelette, wonders if it's really necessary to fight the Germans after all: they could all just lounge around, each on their own side, dying in random accidents until nobody's left and the war's over by default".

And while set in the early part of the twentieth century, the idea of inventions that are supposed to help, ultimately ending up harming is perhaps one that we have yet to learn from. If the book has a weakness it could be said to be in character development - I never got much of a sense of Serge's character, but this isn't a character-led book.

It's one of those terrific books that reads well but which also stands up to a more critical analysis. It's only 300 or so pages, but reading it, I felt like I'd lived Serge's life. I urge you to read it too.
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Literary Fiction does not have to be this boring and vapid Nov. 15 2010
By David Norman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is the first book I've given up on in years, and I'm a fan of dense intellectual endeavors like "A New Literary History of America." It should have been telling that most of the jacket copy and much of the advertising for "C" is invested in lauding his previous book, rather than touting the merits of this ponderous accomplishment. I can say that his grammar is impeccable in these dark ages of LOL-speak, his descriptions as clear and exciting as perfect photographs of grass or sand (pointlessly minute, not astute), and his plot is gasping for breath in an iron lung in some forgotten polio hospital. Vonnegut captures you in 10 pages. Thompson in 5. Hemingway in 1. In 100 pages "C" put me to sleep more effectively than Lunesta, more frequently than narcolepsy, and has become my go-to book for insomnia--that accomplishment has earned it the lone star I award. You'll learn more about modes of communication, the dark motivations of the human heart, and the unsettling realities of life in a scientifically advancing society by reading a couple Surgeon Generals Warnings than you will by reading "C."
15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars strange, complex, and disturbing Sept. 10 2010
By JV - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This novel is not for you if you are looking for likeable characters, an intriguing and entertaining plot, or an uplifting message.

The main character is emotionally aloof, but the novel is not. One of the novel's themes is how technology becomes a medium to channel our desires and longings for meaning and permanence. This is most obvious in the section on spiritism. For some of the characters, technology is also a tool for social and individual improvement but the novel is essentially deeply pessimistic. There is not so much a plot as a series of events that are forced on the main character and there is not a single easily identifiable theme but an overlap and thickening of symbols and correspondences.

The novel has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the critical reviews are all over the place. For example, Kakutani in the NYT writes that the novel is a disappointment while Jennifer Egan in the NYT as well calls it strange and original, and Jonathan Dee in Harper's thinks "C" is a masterpiece and a uniquely original work. Personally, I enjoyed the novel a lot and find Dee's review well informed and insightful. But this is a complex and ambitious novel and critical consensus is likely to take a long time, if ever.

If you enjoy "C" but are intrigued by its structure and meaning, I recommend McCarthy's essay book "Tintin and the secret of literature" that deals with many of the themes of the novel, and it's a (nerdy) pleasure to read on its own.
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