Rob's Reviews > C

C by Tom McCarthy
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's review
Feb 06, 11

bookshelves: literature, read-in-2011, weird-boners, going-slightly-mad
Read from January 24 to February 02, 2011

(8/10) C is a very difficult novel to get a handle on. It's a strange book -- not strange in the immediately obvious way of, say, Pynchon or DFW, but in a more subtle way that just makes everything feel slightly off. It feels like McCarthy is playing by a just slightly different set of rules than other novelists. Maybe it's the way that C is written like a science-fiction novel set in the past, where early short-wave radio crackers talk like modern-day chat room denizens. Or maybe it's in the deadness of the protagonist Serge, whose mechanical apathy seems to infect the book and even the reader. Maybe it's just the prose, which swings between beauty and drabness without warning. Whatever the source, there's something that feels a bit off, in an unique and positive way.

Most interesting here are the thematic resonances, which seem to draw invisible spiderwebs of connections between technology and human degradation, like the network of invisble radio signals described in the book. Reminds me a bit of J.G. Ballard. Of course, on a basic story level the book is interesting enough too, with McCarthy leading the reader on a decidedly alternative tour of turn-of-the-century English life. Serge's sister Sophie, his recuperation at a German resort town, and the underground world of 1920's cokeheads are what really stuck with me from this novel. The first section, describing Serge's birth, and the last, concerning his trip to Egypt, were a lot less interesting to me, and were unfortunate bookends to a lot of great stuff. Still, C was definitely a book that will stay with me a while, both for the more conventional pleasures as well as that unplacable sense of strangeness.

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