Review: Tom McCarthy’s “C”

by writereaderly

Well, this was disappointing. I’d heard McCarthy give an inspirational interview on my favourite book podcast, talking about experimental writing, and how the novel had really stagnated since Joyce and Stein pulped the rule book over a hundred years ago, and I was all set for radical, crazy, way-out-there writing. (This was how I tried to sell it to Bookclub, but they were smarter than me and knew to reject it). AND it was Booker shortlisted. Slow Rotation led me to ask the Library to hunt this on my behalf, and I’ve been beavering away at it over the last week or so.

And after all that expectation, goodness me, it’s just a Man’s Own Adventure. A 310pp, small-print, big-vocabularied, thoroughly researched, oh-so-clever-clever, Man’s Own Adventure. Serge shags every woman who the author bothers to name (well, except his sister). He navigates bombing missions in WWI and likes it. He takes lots of drugs and deals in the black market to get them. He plays spy on behalf of the whimpering Empire. He does stuff. He don’t think. He definitely don’t feel none. He has the odd spate of hallucinatory thought that’s moderately entertaining. Obviously McCarthy missed the memo that the novel provides unprecedented access to a character’s inner world, because Serge Carrefax is a radio-controlled automaton roaming around the Edwardian Commonwealth.

Sneh. Unless someone can convince me that McCarthy’s other “revolutionary” novels are actually that, this will be the last one I bother to read.

Post-Script: I’d actually read the spa section in Granta 110 (note tactfully explicit cover), an edition which had to be posted to me three times: Mexican postal workers snaffled it twice before it reached my mail box. The third time I asked Granta to *not* send it in a see-through plastic envelope. Poor carteros, getting literary sex-talk in English instead of the porn they were hoping for.

Where it came from: Library
Time taken to read: Various bed-nights and a bed-afternoon
Where it went to: Back home
Reminds me of: It was set in the same time period as A. S. Byatt’s “The Children’s Book”, and Serge’s upbringing reminded me of that. His mother reminded me of Byatt’s heroine in the fabulous novella ‘Angels and Insects’. The spiritualist section of “Back to Black” by Hilary Mantel (not to McCarthy’s favour). The flying of Elizabeth Knox’s “The Angel’s Cut”, although McCarthy was more researched and pornographic (aka plane/war obsessed) n his aviation details.
Who I’d recommend it to: Nope
Also reading: “The Heart of the Matter” by Graham Greene; “Cold Comfort Farm” by Stella Gibbons; “Gertrude” by Hermann Hesse; “The Plumed Serpent” by D.H. Lawrence; “The Reivers” by William Faulkner