Book 127: C:
Tom McCarthy, 2010.Genre:
Period Fiction early 20th Century Europe. Bildungsroman. Post-modern. Literary.Other Details
: Hardback. 320 pages.'C'
chronicles the short, intense life of Serge Carrefax. It opens with his birth in 1898 on an estate named Versoie in southern England. His father is an eccentric inventor who runs a day school for deaf children. His mother is herself deaf and manufactures silk on the estate. Serge grows up in an environment steeped in technological developments. His brilliant older sister, Sophie, is drawn to natural history. One of the novel's rare comic moments emerge from the experiments that she and Serge undertake away from the interfering grown-ups. There are explosions.
It is a journey that sees the teenage Serge travelling to a German spa town to be treated for 'black bile', a condition he develops after a deep personal loss. During the latter part of the war he signs up to become an aerial cartographer and after being shot down spends some time in a German prisoner-of-war camp. After the Great War, he returns to England and immerses himself in the drug-fuelled London society of the dazzling 1920s .He is sent in 1922 to Egypt to assist in setting up the world-spanning Imperial Wireless Chain. While there he becomes interested in an archaeological expedition that is exploring the ancient tombs of Egypt. It is there that certain mysteries of life and death are revealed to him.
Communication is one of the many 'C's found in the novel and provides a major theme throughout. There is a scene in the first part of the novel where Serge tunes into various radio frequencies with other wireless enthusiasts that provides a clear foreshadowing of the development of the world wide web.
This novel shares a similar time period to A.S. Byatt's The Children's Book
and both were Man Booker short-listed titles. Tom McCarthy is a conceptual artist, already established as an experimental writer, so while the summary makes the book's plot sound a fairly conventional bildungsroman set against the background of early 20th century Europe, its style rather defies any easy categorisation. It fairly clearly seeks to engage the intellect of its readers over their emotions. It is full of ideas and seeped in codes, Greek and Egyptian myth, Renaissance verse, geometry, architecture, the earth, philosophy, death rites and insects. It is quite a dark, morbid book with a great deal of reflection upon death though does not draw on the Gothic tradition.
Writers such as Joyce, Bolaño, Beckett and Pynchon were mentioned by its publishers and in critical reviews. I will freely admit that I was a little intimidated by these comparisons as well as by the reports (and some groans) from other readers engaged in the 2010 Man Booker shadowing groups. Yet once I began to read, I found I loved it and had no real problems with its style
As with 'The Children's Book'
it is a novel that requires both close attention and reflection. I am certainly sure there are aspects that I was not able to fathom; though my background knowledge in subjects such as comparative mythology, the Renaissance and Egyptology did assist some.