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C Paperback – September 6, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Remainder established McCarthy as a contemporary champion of the experimental novel and heir to the postmodern stylists of the late 20th century, but it's difficult to come up with a suitable thematic or stylistic precursor to his unclassifiably brilliant latest. The enigmatic title signifies (for starters) Serge Carrefax, who grows up in early 1900s England on the grounds of the Versoie House, where his inventor-father Simeon runs a school for the deaf, using his pupils to test the copper-wire telegraphs and radio gizmos that are his obsession. There, Serge and his ill-fated sister, Sophie, enact strange experiments in chemistry and star in a school pageant depicting Ceres's journey to the underworld. More C-words follow, as an older, haunted Serge travels to a Bavarian sanitarium in search of the healing chemical cysteine and, following his enrollment in the 104th Airborne Squadron, enjoys flying reconnaissance while high on cocaine. The young century unfurls, bringing with it spiritualists, Egyptian espionage, and a fateful tryst in an ancient tomb, where Serge will at last discover the delicate wavelengths that connect him to the historical signals for which he is an ideal receiver. Each chapter of McCarthy's tour de force is a cryptic, ornate puzzle box, rich with correspondences and emphatically detailed digressions. Ambitious readers will be eager to revisit this endlessly interpretive world, while more casual readers will marvel at the high-flying picaresque perched at the crossroads of science and the stuff dreams are made of.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Even with a good deal of mainstream attention for his third novel, C, Tom McCarthy is still something of a fringe writer. That's by choice, and not necessarily a bad thing. Maybe McCarthy, who owes a debt to James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, and the French nouveau roman, has it right when it comes to the writer's prerogative. "There is an intrepid attitude to Mr. McCarthy's literary sally that has little to do with pleasing publishers or an audience," writes the Wall Street Journal. The result is simultaneously brilliant, cryptic, reflexive, and difficult, and McCarthy seems to be content with letting his audience find the story here. Despite being an "experimental" novel, C is never less than thought-provoking, particularly for the multilayered narrative whose threads invite recognition while resisting interpretation. Only the New York Times thought otherwise--but that's Michiko Kakutani for you. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (September 6, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307388212
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307388216
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #176,233 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

88 of 93 people found the following review helpful By K. Harris HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWER on August 31, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I actively sought out Tom McCarthy's "C" based on the reputation of his previous work "Remainder" as well as the initial rapturous reviews from England. I truly expected to love "C!" But while I admired the effort and I found the middle section enthralling, ultimately I was left a little cold. More of a postmodern experiment than a conventional novel, McCarthy's work will certainly fire the synapses of your brain--but as an intellectual and literary exercise, I'm not sure that it will touch your heart. To be fair, I don't think it was McCarthy's intention to go anywhere near the territory of "heart touching," but I just wanted to offer up a alternate viewpoint (and I'm sure I'll be crucified for it--start your negative campaign now) for more casual readers.

"C" is not particularly concerned with conventional narrative or characterizations. In fact, Serge Carrefax--the central character--is a blank slate cypher who observes the world more than he understands it. One of the things I most enjoyed about "C" is that McCarthy oftentimes gives us clues about important aspects of Serge's life that he is completely oblivious of--and thus, these things never get discussed or developed in any tangible way. It's an ingenious device that both amused me but kept the novel aloof. "C" follows Serge from birth, through his relationship with his troubled sister, to a recuperative health spa, to his experiences in the war, to his homecoming as an adult, to his sojourn to Egypt. Each section is relatively stand-alone, developing on its own topics and ideas. Once Serge leaves home to start discovering the world, I started getting into the rhythm and cadence of McCarthy's prose and I was fully hooked until the final sequence in Egypt.
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Nicole Del Sesto on September 5, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
C is not so much as story as a series of eclectic snapshots of the life of Serge Carrefax. These snapshots seem to include tidbits of information about things the author surely must be interested in. Things like, the making of silk, teaching the deaf to speak (and perform Greek tragedies), the mechanics of WWI, wireless communications (i.e. Marconi, not the iPhone), Egypt, etc. There's a lot of scientific explanation and detail, which for the most part was very interesting. If feels, to me, a bit like Serge was created so the author had a vehicle to express his varied interests. I'm not criticizing that, by the way, just expressing an opinion.

It's certainly well written. There are moments of sheer brilliance and perfection.

There's a part during the war where Serge's leader is telling him that a mission is being undertaken, by "tunnelers" to lay explosives underneath enemy trenches. They are concerned that the Germans are perhaps performing the same task even further down.

McCarthy writes:

"Serge becomes fascinated with these tunnelers, these moles. He pictures their noses twitching as they alternatively dig and strap on stethoscopes that, pressing to the ground, they listen through for sounds of netherer moles undermining their undermining. If they did hear them doing this, he tells himself, then they could dig an even lower tunnel, undermine the under-undermining: on and on forever, or at least for as long as the volume and mass of the globe allowed it--until the earth gave over to a molten core, or, bypassing this, they emerged in Australia to find there was no war there ...."

A strange book, you get hints of character's eccentricity, but I'm not sure you ever fully know any of the characters. Even Serge.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Ripple on September 8, 2010
Format: Hardcover
"C" follows the life of Serge Carrefax. Set in the early part of the twentieth century, the reader encounters Serge at various key moments in his life and each of these is quite fascinating and engrossingly related. It's one of those books that is like Dr Who's Tardis - so much happens that when he recalls an earlier part of his life, I found myself thinking `oh yes, that was in this book too, wasn't it?' The book has been described as post-structuralist but don't let that literary labelling put you off. Yes, it's a complex book that can be read at many levels, (and one which I know I'll come back to), but it's completely readable and not at all `difficult'.

You will probably be wondering what does "C" stand for? Well, so am I and I've finished the book! There are a lot of contenders - perhaps it stands simply for Carrefax, but it could also stand for Communication, as this features throughout the book. C also features at one point as a symbol for a place where it's possible to buy Cocaine. Symbols are another recurring theme. McCarthy likes his recurring themes and images. Or perhaps C stands for something else entirely....

Serge (English father and deaf French mother) is born into a house in rural England that serves both as a silk production factory and a school for the deaf. His father is obsessed with experimental wireless communication. If you start there, it's not too surprising that your life is going to be a little strange - and his early life is filled with cryptic signals of various kinds. But it's all very grounded in reality.

Later, following a personal tragedy, Serge finds himself in an East European spa before the next time we meet him serving in the Air Force as a radio operator in World War One.
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