4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Abstract patterns
I have a very wide range of taste in literature - and this was a very different book. I have finished reading it and I have been left with the same feeling I get after looking at a Jackson Pollock painting(seriously)- there are patterns and colours and multiple structural layers within it - and it is impossible to take it all in - and therefore you concentrate on the...
Published on 4 Sep 2011 by Craig Hall
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Emperor's New Clothes?
It looks like Tom McCarthy could be going the same way as David Mitchell - the first two novels being very good and something different but then changing track and writing something which feels hollow and contrived, as though they were trying too hard to bring post-modernism to the masses.
'C' has been critically lauded and described with many -ism type words...
Published on 9 July 2011 by P. Millar
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Abstract patterns,
(Question - is it a spoiler to tell something if it is printed on the cover?)
As other reviewers point out, the book concerns the short and very intense life of Serge Carefax born at the end of the 19th centuary. It starts with his birth at a country house to a deaf mother (with an interest in mood altering drugs) and an eccentric inventor father who runs a school for the deaf. The family contains a rather brilliant but slightly disturbed elder sister Sophie who adds a very significant dimension to his childhood. The book looks at Serge at different times in his bizarre childhood, through a surreal health farm (reminiscent of Wellville), the horror of being a radio operator during the first world war (although he enjoyed it), a drug-fueled college period and an expedition to Egypt.
The book is very definitely dark and full of black humour. The writing is superb, but it is impossible to appreciate everything in one read - I think the book will be better at a second reading. So what strikes after a first reading is the patterns that are wound throughout it and the way they repeat and are pulled together in a fantastic workspace. The idea of a crowded space, full of the trace of transmissions from the very first one, a sense of connection, codes, patterns and repetition builds constantly through the book.
If you want a well formed story, or need to 'like' the characters in a novel, don't waste your time. But if you want to read a contemporary book that is challenging and leaves an overall and lasting impression, then this is to be recommended.
97 of 111 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Far more readable than I expected,
This review is from: C (Hardcover)Having not read any of Tom McCarthy's previous works, but having read a number of newspaper reviews of this book, I expected to never want to read it. Christopher Taylor in the Guardian chose to highlight that "McCarthy speaks the language of post-humanism. His allegiance is to the French nouveau roman and post-structuralist modes of thought..." etc , so I'd already decided it was likely to be a pile of pretentious waffle. However, at a loose end in a bookshop a few days ago I picked it up, read the first few pages, realised my preconceptions were probably wide of the mark, bought it, took it home and read it in one sitting.
The first thing to note is that C is a very enjoyable read. The comic element comes through on nearly every page, and McCarthy's permanent style of `show' rather than `tell' means that you have that slightly smug satisfaction when you 'get' the obscure jokes. A lot of the jokes are pretty dark, and reading some of the chapters felt a bit like listening to an episode of Chris Morris's underrated radio series 'Blue Jam'.
And it's not just the comic element that works this way - McCarthy manages to pack the book with literary and artistic references, and only very occasionally does it feel forced. These references fall into three categories; the ones that the reader will spot and understand the reference (in my case, very few), the ones that the reader will spot and have no idea why it is being eluded to (quite a few), and the ones that the reader misses altogether (probably lots more). One could easily re-read this book three or four times and still only get a fraction of the references. It's like reading a good book and doing a cryptic crossword at the same time. Fun, if you like that sort of thing.
I'm sure academic readers of literature will understand and enjoy this book on a much deeper level than me, but for someone more used to genre fiction and trashy paperbacks to read this in one sitting must be some kind of endorsement. Don't be put off by the overly intellectual discussions - McCarthy has managed to be clever, and let the reader feel clever, without sacrificing the quality of the storyline.
(NB - According to some websites this book isn't released until 5th August? My copy is a signed copy, which makes me think that the shop I bought it from had recently had a pre-release signing session).
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Emperor's New Clothes?,
This review is from: C (Hardcover)It looks like Tom McCarthy could be going the same way as David Mitchell - the first two novels being very good and something different but then changing track and writing something which feels hollow and contrived, as though they were trying too hard to bring post-modernism to the masses.
'C' has been critically lauded and described with many -ism type words (modernism, post-modernism and post-structuralism) some of which seem to contradict each other but people who liked his first two novels do not seem to like this one. Supposedly it takes the form of an intellectual game with the reader trying to spot references and allusions to other works and philosophies but is let down by the style of writing. Other novels which veer more towards works of art rather than traditional narrative are usually written in an interesting style, but 'C' has a flat writing style, reminiscent of many recent 'literary' works, which does not suit the, supposed, intellectualism of the work.
I had previously read and enjoyed 'Men in Space' and will probably read 'Remainder' but was disappointed by 'C'. Although there were some flashes of excellence, most noticeably the first part of the book dealing with the main character's birth and early life (including allusions to early txt spk, his inventor father who is always one step behind other inventors, and the story of the sister) and a drug fuelled dogfight during World War I, these were not enough to maintain interest over the course of the whole story.
'C' is Tom McCarthy's first novel for a mainstream publisher and it feels as though they have told him they enjoyed his previous novels but wanted something more commercial - thus diluting what made his first two novels something to write about, hopefully his next novel will something worth reading.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Hate to use the B word, but i was Bored,
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Unlike many books I read in which I have a lot of areas to discuss about things I did and didn't enjoy with C I find myself at something of a loss.
C is the story of Serge Carrefax and the novel follows him through his childhood in the grounds of the Deaf School run by his father, then to a period of recuperation following an illness, then to the Great War and then Egypt.
Though the novel initially gets off to a good start : Serge's sister Sophie is an interesting character; after it moves on from his childhood and adolescence the novel entirely lost me, I understood what was going on but felt a total sense of disconnect as a reader from either the plot or the characters.
I read it but I was completely disinterested in it, and was not moved in any way by it nor engaged in its outcome.
I suppose fundamentally what I'm saying here is that I was bored, and couldn't find anything about it either remarkable or special which leaves me mystified at its Booker inclusion.
16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Best suited to those who enjoy re-reading,
This review is from: C (Hardcover)C begins in 1898 with the birth of Serge Carrefax on an estate in Southern England. Serge's father runs a school for deaf children, but also has a passion for radio communication. This leads Serge to become a wireless radio operator, initially working on spotter planes in WWI and after the war on an archaeological dig in Egypt.
The book initially felt like a piece of historical fiction, but it quickly became much more than that. The text contained layers of philosophy and symbolism that added to the richness of the story, but also left me feeling as though I was constantly missing out on relevant snippets of information.
The book was packed with fascinating details about everything from radio communication to silk production.I loved most of these details, but there were times when I felt that too many were included and the book lost its emotional connection to me.
The plot was quite simple and easy to read on a sentence-by-sentence level, but there were points when I completely lost interest - it was a real chore to read some of the chapters. Luckily the book always seemed to pick up again and I was especially impressed by the WWI section - the descriptions of life in a spotter plane were particularly vivid.
Overall, I enjoyed reading this book, but I think fans of literary fiction who like re-reading/studying books will love discovering all those extra layers of symbolism.
34 of 43 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars C,
This review is from: C (Hardcover)Since the reviews so far have been small in number but very glowing, I feel the need to offer a different viewpoint. I have not included a plot outline, as others have done this already.
I found the lengthy descriptions of small scale events very tedious. Early examples of this are:
- where the doctor walks round the house to his host's workshop, finds it locked, so has to go back all the way round the building. Why did the author not just include a plan?
- the account of the pageant performed by the deaf children to their parents, together with the frequent focus on their repetitive language practice and the dreary poems they have to learn.
- references to long-superseded electrical and optical equipment without any brief notes of explanation: this means either reading stuff one does not understand, or having the flow of reading disrupted by the urge to go and research.
A few errors made me doubt the accuracy of the rest e.g. the description of chrysanthemums, tulips and irises growing together in an open bed. Then there was a paragraph about stamens, stigma and pistils that didn't seem quite right. This matters because reading detail that is inaccurate and serves no other purpose is a waste of time.
The emotional coldness of the book repelled me utterly. I think some of it is meant to be humorous, as when Carrefax senior considers attaching a tapping device to a coffin in case the deceased ( a very close relative) should come back to life. However, the upshot of the fact that the main characters observe the world so clinically, without a drop of empathy, is that one cannot engage with them or care about their fate.
I did not mind the lack of plot, or the disjointed structure. Some images are striking, as when the infant Carrefax observes the beauty of the wing he has plucked from an unfortunate fly, and peers at the Hatching Room through it. The reviewer who feels the book needs to be read slowly, and improves on a reread, may have a point - but life is short, and there are many books which make a positive impact from the outset!
I sense that other readers would like to make this into a kind of "cult book" - if so, I don't want to join.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars All Fur Coat And Nae Knickers,
This review is from: C (Hardcover)Just finished this but I have to admit I skipped through much of the last section because it was so contrived. The novel starts off pretty well; the father, mother and sister characters could have been developed into something more interesting, particularly the sister, whose dallying with chemical experiments is the most interesting part of the book, but after the 'major incident', the book spirals out of control, becoming little more than a ham-fisted attempt at a modernised boys-own romp. The main character Serge is little but an empty shell, careering through radio enthusiasm, dispassionate soldiering, utterly disinterested sex and dull jet-set drug taking, none of which imbues him with any character at all, save a penchant for being a smart arse and a stoical bent, neither of which make him in any way interesting.
The book is also peppered with screeds of researched facts, which do little if nothing to advance any plot or interest and end up sounding forced and more than a little like showing off.
How this became nominated for the Booker I will never understand.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars 'C' - A fair grade,
This review is from: C (Hardcover)A number of scenes, especially in the first section of this book, have characters wandering through a bewildering maze of garden paths, through doors in garden walls exposing another vista - a slight variation of perspective on the last. This maze wandering is continued periodically throughout the book and appears to be a metaphor for the eponymous (?) "hero" Serge Carrefax's life. The book very much eschews character development and indeed plot, but nevertheless provides a reasonably fulfilling reading experience. The author is apparently a literary theorist so I'm sure this book is crammed with all manner of allusions and in-jokes but I'm afraid most (quite probably all) passed me right by.
I can't say I was overly convinced by this novel, it seems clever but I'm not overly convinced of that either; it is just as likely to be fairly lazy, if well-written; I did enjoy reading it but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone else.
I'm going to take the opportunity to fill the currently empty 3-star slot.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars C is for Codswallop,
In 'C', Tom McCarthy has patently decided to write a novel in the key of Thomas Pynchon with a soupçon of WG Sebald's Rings Of Saturn added for good measure. The novel is stuffed to its bloated gills with arcana - obsolete technologies, technical language regarding botany, entomology, cryptography, etc., etc. One feels the research on almost every page; it practically screams out: 'Oh, look what I found out about early transmitters and obscure insects!!' McCarthy clearly delights in such esoteric language, but, as others have noted, for a novel to be interesting, it has to be much more than encyclopaedic listing, or, to use the cloying gambit involving the letter 'c' which pervades the work detrimentally: a catalogue of curiosities.
The straw of extraneous information that finally ended up breaking this camel's back was Dr. Filip's little aside on the Hippocratic concept of the four humours: "If I am speaking several hundred years ago I call it chole, bile - black bile: mela chole. Now I call it [cue list of old disease names TM has looked up in the Encyclopaedia Britannica]".
It felt so forced, so contrived, such an obvious authorial shoe-horning in of a perceived 'nugget' he'd dug up on Wikipedia, that it rendered the entire scene false. It added nothing to the scene, only his own ego, and, what's more, it insulted the educated reader who had probably learnt about the four humours at school. i.e. it didn't even need spelling out to us by an author desperate to parade their research.
Overweening, pompous, and trying far too hard, what 'C' is lacking is artistry. I'm used to 'dry' fiction - Kafka, Walser, Musil - but this - this was just a poorly conceived monument to the author's ego and his trawls on Wikipedia and the British Library.
Add all this to the self-consciously literary writing and the Pynchon-lite symbolism and archaic literary forms (McCarthy's novel is, essentially, a piece of Pynchon fan fiction with The Crying Of Lot 49 as its source material), and you have a novel that is fit for only one purpose: flying across a room.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars 'C' me after class,
This review is from: C (Hardcover)Tom McCarthy's debut novel 'Remainder' remains one of my favourite novels of the last ten years or so and was critically lauded. This, his third book, is his first for heavy hitters Transworld and is sadly, in my view, a massive backward step. Remainder was a tough read at times but ultimately a rewarding one, bursting with ideas and strangeness. 'C' is just dull. I read an interview with Jonny Glynn, author of '7 Days Of Peter Crumb' some time ago and the interviewer asked him about his methodology in writing a novel; Glynn replied that he read back the finished work, then took all the boring bits out. If Mr McCarthy had decided to 'take the boring bits' out of 'C' he would have been left with a manuscript of about 60 pages. It's one of those 'sweeping novels of the early twentieth century' that inevitably elicit cries of 'majestic' and 'peerless' from 'serious critics.
For me it's a book by a writer who has sadly run out of steam and forgotten what it's like to take risks with his work.
I read novels in the hope of being surprised and stimulated, books like 'C' only seem to exist to prove how clever the author is and/or how much research he has done. The world war one stuff has the smell of authenticity about it but it's been done a thousand times before, the leading character's brief addiction to heroine serves no purpose whatsover, and by the time we drift into an elongated lecture on Ancient Egyptian mythology I was flicking to the end of the book to see how many pages were left.
I'll give it two stars for the very occasional glimmer of McCarthy's old form but like the guys in the baseball hats so succinctly put it: don't believe the hype!
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C by Tom McCarthy (Hardcover - 5 Aug 2010)
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