Alfred Hickling is rapidly turning into my personal bete noir for his pocket reviews of books he apparently has not fully read. Last Saturday [Review, Saturday Guardian 27.08.11] he did an inaccurate thumbnail sketch of C by Tom McCarthy which did little justice to this powerful novel, probably the best published in the UK in 2010. This is a book which has been described as an historical novel but it is concerned less with history than with ideas and minds. It is full of philosophic allusions and learned references that sit comfortably in what is at times a highly amusing book and most readable.
The protagonist, Serge Carrefax, does not wind up in Egypt installing transmitters [as AH says] but is asked to come to Alexandria to write a report or reports on the advancement of a company alluded to as the Empire Wireless Chain. His 'aerial adventures' [to quote Hickling] give one of the best descriptions I have ever read of flying as an observer over the front lines in the First World War in France [not Egypt, AH]. And the cocaine he uses on his eyeballs is to sharpen his vision, not to get high [AH] - vision being a deep theme of the book. Serge is at once both in and not in the world; not so much suffering any existential angst but rather with a phenomenological grasp of life around him. Studying art with his tutor as a boy, he experienced great difficulty with perspective viewing the world as flat, an image that is reinforced as an observer flying with the RFC in the war.
These thumbnail reviews of newly published paperbacks are a useful aid to books one might have missed when published in hardback. It does us no service to misconstrue them.