C by Tom McCarthy

There are certain books where modernism is pushed too far (if you read my blog, you’ll know which), then there are some which in my opinion hit the proverbial nail right on the head. C is that. I’ll admit to liking McCarthy after reading his first novel Remainder; his style is unique, but interesting. He explores his readers’ psyches almost as much as his characters’ through a complex and evocative vocabulary. His words challenge your perception of what is and isn’t real or acceptable in ways that other writers never could.

C is McCarthy’s third novel and received generally mixed reviews upon release, but was nonetheless shortlisted for the 2010 Man Booker award. The story follows the life of Serge Carrefax; an electric character ‘born to the sound of one of the very first experimental wireless stations.’ The novel mirrors this electricity, it’s short, intense and indeed “shocking.” Serge’s life however brief is extraordinarily complex: his father – a professor for deaf children and wireless radio enthusiast aligns his son with a motif of signals and static. There is a sense that there is a constant flowing energy following Serge through the pages. McCarthy explores an array of settings in which Serge flies through, leaving an impression but never staying in for too long. This of course gives the book some much needed variation – from his home life, through the first world war to the drug addled London of the roaring Twenties and finally to Egypt. Throughout, Serge’s fixations grow, he moves from his place as a curious child, experimenting with his sister’s chemistry set, to experimenting with drugs and eventually moving to his element as a ‘Pylon Man’ in Egypt.

C in essence is a book which is a character in itself. Serge carries the novel, it’s his personal development which the reader will follow. This counts towards the novel in many respects. A character driven novel is an excellent concept, and when well executed it becomes an excellent novel. C, or more specifically the character of Serge makes a discordant plot line, indeed, less of a plot ‘line’ than a plot ‘scribble,’ connect in ways you wouldn’t initially see. there is a communication between each of the sections – the hard ‘C’ and the soft ‘C’ seem to represent the two sides of Serge with the clicking and hissing static of a signal which is lost to the air.

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