Hey Guys! Your enthusiastic response to my opening sally prompts me to rush ahead with an opening review! Next Tuesday 12th will see the annual Booker Prize knees-up with the announcement of the winner - and what a mixed bag of goodies is out there for the judges. Professor Josipovici recently attacked those 'English pseudo-Modernists' - and I think he had the likes of Amis, McEwan et al in mind - but he can surely now rest easy that Tom McCarthy has erupted on the literary scene. I say erupted because his previous novel, Remainder, got nothing like the exposure it deserved but now with 'C' he must surely triumph and claim the Booker.
'C' has been described by one critic as steeped in high modernism and continental philosophy. Certainly it is full of philosophic allusions and learned references that sit comfortably in what is at times a highly amusing novel and most readable. It is imaginative, innovative and anti-realist. McCarthy is a precise writer and master of language. The book itself although described as a historical novel is not concerned with history but with ideas and minds. One might think the period of the setting is particularly deliberate coinciding as it does with the emergence of modernism at the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. The book is structured in four sections andd the date of the final section set in Alexandria is 1922, the year of publication of Ulysses. If it was his intention to link himself with the gret modernists, then he has succeeded.
If you still have doubts about reading this undoubted masterpiece, let me tell you a little of the story and no spoiler alert needed. The first section of thebook holds all the clues to the protagonist, Serge's, development in life and all subsequent events no matter how cataclysmic are drawn from then. The Carrefax household to which we are introduced is so composed as to allow great freedom to McCarthy in his frenetic intellectual gallop and, at times, wicked sense of humour. The sprawling country house with its several gardens - the Crypt Park, the Mulberry Orchard, the Maze, and so on whose names are carefully chosen - forms the backdrop for its curious inhabitants. From the splenetic brilliant inventor father obsessed with telegraphy, to his deaf, silk-weaving wife - shades of Ariadne - to Serge's godfather, Widsun, a shadowy figure both benign and malign, and finally, to the elusive Sophie, his older sister who is consumed by and very accomplished in natural science. She is the most significant person in Serge's life and his relationship with her is of paramount importance. The calamitous events involving her lead directly to his later bowel illness and accompanying blurred vision. Serge spends long hours at night dabbling in telegraphy himself, listening to voices coming over the wires while contemplating the night skies and seeing or imagining shadowy figures in the gardens. Serge is at once both in and not in the world, not so much suffering any existential angst but, rather, wwith a phenomenological grasp of life around him. Studying art with his tutor, he experiences great difficulty with perspective viewing the world as flat, an image that is reinforced as an observer flying with the RFC in the war.
It would be a great disservice to McCarthy to read this other than with great thought and deliberation and it is guaranteed to remain with one long after other Booker titles have faded.
Hey, check out McCarthy's Necronautical Society! This man is a genius.