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.
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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.