Greg's Reviews > C

C by Tom McCarthy
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Oct 02, 10

Read from September 25 to October 01, 2010

In my review for Jennifer Egan's newest novel I got carried away with digressions and forgot to mention the most remarkable aspect of the novel: the depth and richness she achieved even though the book was only two hundred and something pages, fifty pages were taken up by the powerpoint chapter, and each chapter had the difficult task of having to introduce a whole new cast of characters.

C has a similar-ish task that Egan's book does. Show a persons life through a series of chapters that capture different point in his life. McCarthy only has one person's life (sort of) to deal with (instead of two like in Egan's (but I'm not really comparing these two authors, I'm just using Egan as a hook or something)), and a much shorter life than either of Egan's characters. Of course, a comparison like I'm making so far is silly, there is nothing inherent about page count / length of time that passes in a book and anything. A twenty page short story could conceivably capture a whole life of an octogenarian while a big novel by James Joyce could possibly be about one day in the life of a former jew living in Dublin. But maybe I just couldn't help thinking of Egan because a) I came to reading both novels with a high level of expectation for awesomeness, b) they are each published by Alfred Knopf which bi) means they have similar paper, producing a similar tactile experiencing in touching the pages, and bii) all of the pages have that affectation that the pages could have been 'cut' with a knife a call back to when books were sold with uncut pages and the reader would physically cut the pages as he or she progressed through the book and c) they both carried promises of breaking from the conventional novel.

If I compare C to A Visit from the Goon Squad than the former novel loses. I'm going to stop the comparison now and just focus on the book at hand and any digressions stemming from this novel and nothing else.

A few weeks ago I saw Tom McCarthy read from the novel, and the reading was awesome. His talking about early 20th century art movements and some of the themes that were important to him in the novel was right up my alley. He was pushing all of my dork buttons and making me want to read C even more than I already did.

On it's surface C has a few interesting things going on, but it also reads like a sort of hurried historical novel with a really big vocabulary and a kooky ending.

I'm not sure if I'm just missing things in the novel. Actually, I'm fairly certain I am. This makes me a sad. I count myself as a fairly good reader, I read a little on the fast side, but I think I'm at least average in skill at being able to catch themes and underlying narrative 'tricks'. I like to think that the bar is kind of high on what constitutes a 'difficult' novel that leaves me utterly confused. I think that I bring a fairly decent background of knowledge to the books I read that let me catch at least some allusions and references that aren't one hundred percent explicit. I know that I don't catch everything, especially since I generally only read books once which is suck (sorry, this term is from another book that is starting mess with my internal vocabulary) but a reality. I'm saying all of this because I think that there are things McCarthy is doing that I'm totally missing; things he is expecting the reader to figure out and run with.

For example there is the whole Futurist / Marinetti thing going on, which is never mentioned, but that is pretty clear to me because I've read the Futurist Manifesto, but is that is not something that (I think) can be assumed most readers would automatically have done or make the connection. Catching this allusion made for parts of the book to be richer and I can say, oh that is why McCarthy has (x) going on, but catching this one allusion makes me worried that there are lots of other things I'm completely missing. Things that I would understand or be able to work with if the signposts in the text were clearer.

Most books give some kind of indication about how much work is expected of you. C doesn't. His reputation and Zadie Smith's gushing praise give a little bit of an indication, but that was for another book and can't be applied to this one with any certainty. Am I making any sense?

I had this idea years ago to write a romance novel. It would have been a regular old crappy romance novel, but the text would be a series of codes, word games and OULIPO style hijinks that would make it actually a totally different novel, if the reader could figure out what and where to look in the text to change the book. Of course in my head I wasn't going to give any clear pointers, I would have to just wait for the 'ideal' (non-existent) reader to come along that would catch one of the tricks and then work with the novel until it gave up all of the secrets. Is C a much less extreme version of this?

I have a feeling that it is. That there is a lot there but it needs to be coaxed out of the text, and that I have failed as a reader. Or maybe McCarthy didn't produce as well as he could have, but I'll blame myself for now, if only because I was sick for most of the time I read this novel. Maybe this is a novel I need to return to with a healthy body.
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Comments (showing 1-50 of 72) (72 new)


message 1: by karen (new)

karen three???!!!

weak stuff.


Greg I know. I'm a little disappointed. I'll write a review soon.


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio I like the cover.


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Greg wrote: "I'm a little disappointed."

According to his GR page:

Tom McCarthy — "English fiction’s new laureate of disappointment" (Time Out, September 2007) — is a writer and artist.


message 5: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine b) they are each published by Alfred Knopf which bi) means they have similar paper, producing a similar tactile experiencing in touching the pages, and bii) all of the pages have that affectation that the pages could have been 'cut' with a knife a call back to when books were sold with uncut pages and the reader would physically cut the pages as he or she progressed through the book

best comparison ever.


message 6: by karen (new)

karen most importantly - would i get even one allusion in this?


Greg You'd probably get all of them and then call me stupid.

Anyway, more importantly, during the Q&A of his reading McCarthy said that William Burroughs was a better writer than Thomas Hardy. Thoughts?


message 8: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine Greg wrote: "You'd probably get all of them and then call me stupid.

Anyway, more importantly, during the Q&A of his reading McCarthy said that William Burroughs was a better writer than Thomas Hardy. Thoughts?"


did you feel like he honestly thought this or he was saying it for shock value?


message 9: by karen (new)

karen oh, right, you told me that.

yeah, this guy is a jackass.i'm not reading this.


message 10: by karen (new)

karen does burroughs have his own rock opera??

[image error]


is he "utterly brilliant"??




a new movie (sortof) coming out??



i don't think so.


message 11: by MJ (last edited Oct 02, 2010 10:35AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

MJ Nicholls Excellent review. I caught the Futurist comment but, well... yawn. This book is a bloated stylistic exercise, not a brain-blasting hunk of newness.

Hardy & Burroughs are both wanted for war crimes. It's like comparing liver + bowel cancer.


message 12: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! Did you ever write down that romance novel?


message 13: by karen (new)

karen thomas hardy is guilty of war crimes of awesomeness.


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio karen wrote: "thomas hardy is guilty of war crimes of awesomeness."

Like! I don't even know who Thomas Hardy is, but "war crimes of awesomeness" is great.


message 15: by MJ (new) - rated it 2 stars

MJ Nicholls karen wrote: "thomas hardy is guilty of war crimes of awesomeness."

Hardy is a mean, prolix humbug. I'd happily banish Hardy + Lawrence from the canon and replace them with a damp dishcloth.


message 16: by karen (last edited Oct 02, 2010 08:37PM) (new)

karen the most casual research shows you like his poems and are "meh" about tess.i don't like tess, either, and i haven't yet read the work of this "damp dishcloth", but i will fight you with my fists, if you like.


message 17: by Miriam (new)

Miriam I don't even know who Thomas Hardy is, but

Are you just was saying that for shock value?


message 18: by Greg (new) - rated it 3 stars

Greg I was wondering about MFSO's comment earlier, too.

MJ, I think parts of this book worked really well, but I'm happy to hear that I'm not the only person who just didn't get much out of it.


message 19: by Greg (new) - rated it 3 stars

Greg Eh!, I never got any farther than thinking about the idea of this palimpsest romance novel. It's one of my many ambitious ideas that lives only in my head.


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio I've never read him and know little about him beyond his being a writer from back in the day. Sounds like I ought to read him, huh?


message 21: by Greg (last edited Oct 02, 2010 09:51PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Greg I really like him, MJ equates him with painful cancer, and Karen loves him.


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Good enough endorsement for tossing upon the ol' to-read mountain.


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Oh, he's the Jude the Obscure guy. Ok. Well, I've been meaning to read that one for a while.


message 24: by MJ (last edited Oct 03, 2010 02:27AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

MJ Nicholls OK, there are worse authors out there. I remember really loving the vengeance of Jude the Obscure in my teens. His poems are wonderfully miserable.


message 25: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine it is impossible that anyone whose met karen doesn't know who hardy is.


message 26: by karen (new)

karen hahhahaha

jude is one of the best books ever, but mayor is also amazingly tight and god, yes, his poems.


but i really hate tess. i mean, it has some good bits, but the whole resolution makes me blush with shame for him.


message 27: by Esteban (new)

Esteban del Mal Thomas Hardy kicks ass.

I saw that Bronson movie (msg 10). There is such a thing as too much British penis.


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Jasmine wrote: "it is impossible that anyone whose met karen doesn't know who hardy is."

I guess I hardy know her at all then!

(Where's Eh!? This is an emergpuncy.)


message 29: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine MyFleshSingsOut wrote: "Jasmine wrote: "it is impossible that anyone whose met karen doesn't know who hardy is."

I guess I hardy know her at all then!

(Where's Eh!? This is an emergpuncy.)"


how cute


message 30: by karen (last edited Oct 03, 2010 02:56PM) (new)

karen i once had to do a fact-checking assignment for grad school, and i chose thomas hardy as my subject. i called the paper

thomas hardy:mayor of factorbridge.


hahahaahahahaha oh, grad school is full of fun and laughter.


message 31: by Miriam (new)

Miriam oh, grad school is full of fun and laughter

hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha---- gasp, out of breath. But that was funny, Karen!


message 32: by karen (new)

karen i called another paper

kindle 2: rise of the machines.


no one appreciates my wit in grad school.


message 33: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine I appreciate your wit.


message 34: by Miriam (new)

Miriam I had a graduate prof tell me to write more boringly or other scholars wouldn't take me seriously. Academia is just not into teh funny.


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Miriam wrote: "I had a graduate prof tell me to write more boringly or other scholars wouldn't take me seriously. Academia is just not into teh funny."

Yeah, this is why I'm leaning towards the creative writing MFA thing over my other interests when it comes to getting back into school.


message 36: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine My favorite thing about graduate school is the writing:

Fact, fact, fact, fact, assumption, critque, win

I barely even include intros and conclusions it's like writing a math proof.


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio karen wrote: "kindle 2: rise of the machines"

First year of college I entitled a paper on Marx's concept of 'the alienation of labor' with a Fight Club reference, "You Are Not Your Job." I thought I was clever, now I just groan and roll my eyes. I think I did something similar with a line from Waking Life for another paper's title... Double groan.


message 38: by karen (new)

karen don't groan! embrace your corniness!

i don't care as long as i am laughing. everyone else can screw. i take that stance with my reviews, as well.


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio I ultimately do, but part of me wishes I could go back in time and confront and chastise my younger self for crimes against constant coolness. And maybe then engage in some weird, make-up, college-time-bi-curiosity-twincest.


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio It'd been too long since twincest was last brought up. Just doing my part.


message 41: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine If you ever feel too bad just remember you are cooler than me.

My undergrad thesis was on the book invisible monsters.

Spoilers ahead

the paper was about how sartre, rogers and dewey would justify shooting yourself in the face. Seriously and I graduated.


message 42: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine MyFleshSingsOut wrote: "I ultimately do, but part of me wishes I could go back in time and confront and chastise my younger self for crimes against constant coolness. And maybe then engage in some weird, make-up, college..."

although I am all for throwing your younger self under the bus. I mean seriously I was an idiot back before I met karen


message 43: by karen (new)

karen i have had and will always have an idiot streak. and i am perfectly content with that. i do not need to be cool - i sleep with a stuffed bunny.


message 44: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine I sleep with barnsie


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio My undergrad thesis was music I'd recorded. I threw some weird instrumental stuff together a few days before due dates and turned in old recordings and a 15 or 20 page recording journal/embarrassingly confessional ranting/waxing philosophical thing along with it. I passed but without any pride. I had planned to work really hard on it but that all fell away from me... I was somewhat satisfied with one or two of the new hastily thrown together pieces, but that's about it.


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio I sleep with my laptop.


message 47: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine I do that too.

I have a full bed and since I'm single It has several books, my computer etc on it. I finding dating inconvenient for this exact reason.


message 48: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Oct 04, 2010 09:45AM) (new)

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Just tell the fellas that you're into freaky threesomes (just don't mention the fact that the third is actually a pile of books or the equivalent, i.e. that Gaddis book), 'cause that'd be funny. 'What's the problem, guy, you don't like books?'


message 49: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Oct 04, 2010 09:48AM) (new)

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio You'd either make the coolest ones laugh and get the so-lame-that-it's-funny-and-clever joke or attract some really weird people who actually do want to have sex with books. Either way, it'd make for good stories.


message 50: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine okay the only problem with that is that guys get this weird idea that it would be sexy if the girl read a book during sex. If a guy is so bad in bed he thinks that's a good idea I lose any desire to bring him home.


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