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C


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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Quintessential Literary Fiction
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),...
Published on September 5, 2010 by Nicole Del Sesto

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86 of 89 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Central Character Is A Cypher of Curious Detachment
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...
Published on August 31, 2010 by K. Harris


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86 of 89 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Central Character Is A Cypher of Curious Detachment, August 31, 2010
This review is from: C (Hardcover)
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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. Instead of reaffirming what I had admired about the book, its denseness only served to distance me from it irrevocably.

Much discussion has centered around the meaning of the title "C" as it references many plot points or themes within the work. I think that it is fair to say that connectivity and communication are developed throughout "C" as central thesis points, and as such, it's odd that I'd end up feeling curiously detached at the novel's conclusion. Once again, there is much ambition and intelligence at work here and, in no way, would I discourage someone who is intrigued by this work to avoid it. But know what you're getting into! I have no doubt that "C" will continue to be embraced--I just wanted to counter with my opinion that "C" was ultimately easier for me to admire than it was to love.
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Quintessential Literary Fiction, September 5, 2010
This review is from: C (Hardcover)
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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. Also, a number of characters are unceremoniously dumped, never to be heard from again. That's part of the "snapshot" thing, but it left me wondering, but what about...? There's some great humor in this book, but no emotion. Which I find so odd, because there are parts which would ordinarily be emotional. There were times I was enthralled and times not so much. Oddly (for me), I found the war parts the most engaging, and the Egyptian part the least so.

A really interesting read.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clever, intriguing and funny - this is a terrific book, September 8, 2010
This review is from: C (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. Although we jump from stage to stage in his life, each one is so perfectly told and beautifully described, there's no discordant sense to the reading experience. The descriptions of what it felt like to be an early aviator in the Great War are frighteningly real. If you enjoyed Sebastian Faulks' Birdsong, then you will find equal terror here above ground. It's here that drugs start to appear as cocaine is used to heighten the eyesight of aviators.

Drugs remain on the scene upon his return to 1920s London and weird communication and signals again re-appear with public seances as bereaved parents seek to contact their lost sons. Finally Serge finds himself again in communication, this time in Egypt.

If this all sounds rather deep or dry, fear not. There's plenty of humour too. Discussing losses to friendly fire and experimental flying during his stationing in France in the War, "Serge, chewing on his omelette, wonders if it's really necessary to fight the Germans after all: they could all just lounge around, each on their own side, dying in random accidents until nobody's left and the war's over by default".

And while set in the early part of the twentieth century, the idea of inventions that are supposed to help, ultimately ending up harming is perhaps one that we have yet to learn from. If the book has a weakness it could be said to be in character development - I never got much of a sense of Serge's character, but this isn't a character-led book.

It's one of those terrific books that reads well but which also stands up to a more critical analysis. It's only 300 or so pages, but reading it, I felt like I'd lived Serge's life. I urge you to read it too.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars strange, complex, and disturbing, September 10, 2010
This review is from: C (Hardcover)
This novel is not for you if you are looking for likeable characters, an intriguing and entertaining plot, or an uplifting message.

The main character is emotionally aloof, but the novel is not. One of the novel's themes is how technology becomes a medium to channel our desires and longings for meaning and permanence. This is most obvious in the section on spiritism. For some of the characters, technology is also a tool for social and individual improvement but the novel is essentially deeply pessimistic. There is not so much a plot as a series of events that are forced on the main character and there is not a single easily identifiable theme but an overlap and thickening of symbols and correspondences.

The novel has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the critical reviews are all over the place. For example, Kakutani in the NYT writes that the novel is a disappointment while Jennifer Egan in the NYT as well calls it strange and original, and Jonathan Dee in Harper's thinks "C" is a masterpiece and a uniquely original work. Personally, I enjoyed the novel a lot and find Dee's review well informed and insightful. But this is a complex and ambitious novel and critical consensus is likely to take a long time, if ever.

If you enjoy "C" but are intrigued by its structure and meaning, I recommend McCarthy's essay book "Tintin and the secret of literature" that deals with many of the themes of the novel, and it's a (nerdy) pleasure to read on its own.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Literary Fiction does not have to be this boring and vapid, November 15, 2010
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This review is from: C (Hardcover)
This is the first book I've given up on in years, and I'm a fan of dense intellectual endeavors like "A New Literary History of America." It should have been telling that most of the jacket copy and much of the advertising for "C" is invested in lauding his previous book, rather than touting the merits of this ponderous accomplishment. I can say that his grammar is impeccable in these dark ages of LOL-speak, his descriptions as clear and exciting as perfect photographs of grass or sand (pointlessly minute, not astute), and his plot is gasping for breath in an iron lung in some forgotten polio hospital. Vonnegut captures you in 10 pages. Thompson in 5. Hemingway in 1. In 100 pages "C" put me to sleep more effectively than Lunesta, more frequently than narcolepsy, and has become my go-to book for insomnia--that accomplishment has earned it the lone star I award. You'll learn more about modes of communication, the dark motivations of the human heart, and the unsettling realities of life in a scientifically advancing society by reading a couple Surgeon Generals Warnings than you will by reading "C."
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant and challenging novel, September 14, 2010
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G. Dawson (United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: C (Hardcover)
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Tom McCarthy's "C" is a brilliant and challenging novel. "C" follows the life of Serge Carrefax, beginning with his childhood in rural England and continuing as he leaves home to fight in World War I, returns to a drug-addled life in London, and finally travels to Egypt to pursue a job in communications. The novel lacks a traditional narrative arc, and the various segments of Serge's life are relatively unconnected to each other in a narrative sense. However, "C" has a strong inner network of recurring motifs and concepts that gives the book structure and cohesion. Throughout all his various adventures, Serge seeks something larger than himself. As a teenager experimenting with wireless communications, he is fascinated by the static that exists at the end of the radio range, which he views as evidence of a greater, unifying power. As Serge matures, he continues to look for the universal constant that holds everything together. McCarthy peppers Serge's story with recurring motifs of insects, broken or fraudulent communication systems, machinery, and dismembered bodies. These dehumanizing symbols constantly work against Serge's desire to identify a kind of universal humanity, setting up a tension that is never resolved. "C" is not a typical novel with a traditional plot structure and is not likely to appeal to those readers looking for a traditional novel-reading experience. However, for readers interested in an intellectual challenge and willing to try something utterly original, "C" is the perfect choice.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Black ink survives?, October 5, 2010
This review is from: C (Hardcover)
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If you have scrolled through some of the reviews of "C," you already know that it is a novel that defies categorization. Post-modern? Or, to use a more old-fashioned word, avant garde? Experimental? I'll settle for "unusual." It's not a book that's likely to make it onto the book club circuit, and I can't imagine Oprah enjoying it.

I didn't enjoy it either, in the sense of settling into a chair with a book that you just can't put down. I did like it in the same way I enjoy a tricky crossword puzzle full of word play and odd connections. The protagonist, Serge Carrefax, is born with a caul, and this covering seems to be the distinguishing feature of Serge's life: he sees everything through a kind of membrane or veil and his sense seem full engaged only through sexual activity, drug use, or imminent death. In World War I, he serves as an observer or spotter in planes, floating above the trenches, and throughout his life he maintains that kind of distance.

As a child, Serge becomes interested in radio transmissions, and they too are symbolic of the psychological borderland he inhabits, with his hand on the dial of a mechanical apparatus tuned to the invisible world of sound waves. One sees here the beginnings of the digital world we live in now, as Serge monitors the primitive communications of distant ships at sea. One of the best scenes in the book is when Serge, living in London after the war, attends a session with a medium who claims to be able to contact the dead. There is also a strand in the novel that follows his interest in insects, which communicate in ways that humans cannot decipher.

One of the most interesting "c" words (of many) is "carbon," a basic element of life. During the war, pilots and observers speak with particular dread of being "carbonisé" or instantly annihilated mid-air by a shell. Serge, however, seems alternately to welcome annihilation, whether by firing squad or car crash, or to listen for evidence of another world (hence the punning final section, "The Call," which is set in Cairo). That city, in the post-war years, seems to Serge to be full of sounds that he can't quite make out but that coalesce in "a longing for some kind of world, one either disappeared or yet to come, or perhaps even one that's always been there, although only in some other place, in a dimension Euclid never plotted . . .".

I do agree with other readers that the Egypt section is tedious and pedantic, which makes for a disappointing conclusion. "C" is, however, a novel well worth reading.
M. Feldman
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "...Surtout, the C: the C is everywhere.", September 15, 2010
This review is from: C (Hardcover)
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If you are reading my review right now, it may be because you are wondering whether or not you might want to read Tom McCarthy's C. Quite honestly, I liked this quirky and original piece of modern fiction very much but would I recommend it? That's a tough question.

This curious novel is definitely not for everyone and I'm probably going to take a bashing for praising it and rating it 5 stars but this is one of those books that must be approached and reviewed personally and subjectively. If your taste in fiction is more conventional and you don't enjoyed being challenged by an out of the ordinary, highly imaginative, very stylized fiction, then C is not for you.

I actually surprised myself by enjoying it as much as I did. C turned out to be quite remarkable and highly enjoyable and I'm so glad I gave it a chance. It's one of those novels that seems to grow on you if you have a little patience with it.

Many of the other reviewers summarize the plot, analyze Serge Carrefax~the main character, offer explanation of the title, interpret the author's play on the letter "C," and speak much of the author's recurring motifs, but I think all of that is a disservice to the reader. Rather, I believe the novel should be left to the reader's personal discovery.

This is an intelligent novel about connection and communication and the reader who appreciates science and puzzles, philosophy and psychology, history and adventure, wit and wisdom will indeed make the connection and enjoy the reading experience. At times I laughed out loud. At other times I was moved to tears. Then again at other times I was a little bored and had to fight the urge to skim. The denouement is subtle and its resolution satisfying. Yes, in my opinion the writing of C, if a bit schizoid, is still brilliant, evocative and entertaining.

C is definitely not easy reading however. This book required a little reading discipline in order for me to absorb every nuance and subtlety. I had to take it in small doses as to avoid the headache that came from too much deciphering and connecting the dots for too long a time.

What I enjoyed most about this novel is the clever use of the letter "C." From the title to the last page the mind becomes engaged in noticing words and turns of phrase in application of it. It takes the reader into a surreal realm of imagination and holds the attention there. My imagination is still at play with it. A passage from Part Four which has stayed with me follows~

"...Surtout, the C: the C is everywhere."
"The sea?" asks Serge.
"The letter: C."
"What's C?"
"Carbon: basic element of life.

It's that play on words and letters and concepts that kept me hooked and engaged until conclusion.

C is inventive and original and this reader intends to give it another go. I'm sure I'll enjoy it even more during my second time around with Serge Carrefax.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Greatest story ever, September 5, 2010
This review is from: C (Hardcover)
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Not so long ago, I read a book advertised as "literature" by a new, young writer. Although the book was fine, I did not find it to be a work of literature but rather a modern, contemporary popular fiction. I was shred to pieces by my fellow Amazon readers and even called pretentious. Well, I must say to my critics, that once they read "C" by Tom McCarthy they will understand what a true literature is. Now, you can call me any way you want -- but this book is the work of literature!

Wonderfully written, this book is a homage to early 20th century and all the inventions that era brought to the general population. Telegraph was a new invention; WWI erupted around Europe and it was the first time ever that planes were used in combat. Shortly afterwards, British archeoplogists were all over Egypt digging around pyramids in attempt to salvage heritage from the whole another era. Author introduces a main character of the book, Serge Carrefax. From the day he was born, Serge is a special boy. His sister Sophie and he are raised in school for deaf children that is run by their father. Both of them are raised by tutors and nurses and develop interest in sciences. Close in their age and equally curious about the world around them, Sophie and Serge form close bond. It is tragedy in Serge's early life that will mark his destiny and his life.

Serge volunteers to be a pilot in WWI, he later goes on the mission to destroy people who pray on other's grief and ends up working as a British civil servant in Egypt after he studied architecture in London, working for the Britiain's Ministry of Communications. Serge's approach to life, his choice of people he surrounds himself with and also his affinity to being with unconventional women mark his life that is deeply complex.

However, it is not just this fascinating character that makes up this fascinating book. The story plot is so multi-layered and deep, that I must say that there are no such talented writers like this one I read recently. Mr. McCarthy is a writer one can only dream of coming across and I consider myself fortunate to have read his latest work. I will be on a lookout for his previous books. To all Amazon readers who are seeking richly written novel with great plot and wonderful characters - this is a book you cannot miss for anything in a world. I really mean it.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Controlled Chaos, September 1, 2010
This review is from: C (Hardcover)
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C, the title, what might it stand for? Communication, chiefly: communication of all kinds, the more outré the better. But also, more or less at random: Ciphers, codes, cartography, carbon, copulation, cocaine, Cairo, and a hero named Carrefax. Serge Carrefax, to be precise, born at the end of the nineteenth century to a father who runs a school for the profoundly deaf out of a silk farm in the south of England and is also an amateur inventor, an early pioneer of radio. The father's painstaking efforts to get drawn-out vowels and clipped consonants from his beginning pupils and his attempts to get electrical signals to jump over his mulberry orchard wall are the first of the many kinds of unusual communication that so obviously fascinate McCarthy, and this reader also.

Craziness. We are in a bizarre world, and McCarthy describes it in loving detail. One of the joys of reading fiction is to be taken places we would not otherwise visit, and none more wonderful than places in the mind. The strange pursuits in the Carrefax household while Serge is growing up are a world apart from humdrum activity, but they carry their dangers. Serge's elder sister Sophie is even more brilliant than he is, but her scientific (and sexual) studies border on the insane. Serge himself is singled out at birth by being born with a caul (within the unruptured amniotic sac), giving the title of the first of the book's four parts: Caul.

CAUL follows Serge's upbringing, his teenage experiments with radio and Morse code, and a bizarre stay at a second-tier spa in Eastern Europe shortly before the First World War. CHUTE, the second part, sees him as a pilot-turned-observer on the Western Front, mapping enemy artillery by sight, sound, and sheer intuition. It is a fascinating view of a conflict that is all too often described at (or below) ground level. Life expectancy is not high, but Serge fortunately ends by being captured rather than killed. The third part, CRASH, takes Serge into the swing era, the London club scene, and the ready availability of drugs, burning the candle at both ends in a pervasive national PTSD. The craze for spiritualism offers another form of unusual communication, and his unmasking of a fraudulent medium provides a magnificent set-piece.

Up to now, I had been hugely enjoying the unpredictability of McCarthy's mind, but I was also becoming increasingly aware of book's episodic nature and wondering what the author will do to pull his ideas together. When the fourth part, CALL, moved the setting to Egypt in 1922 (the year it gained independence from British control), and introduced an entirely new set of characters, I feared the novel had taken one step too many. Egyptian hieroglyphics and the babel of overlapping languages in this international setting do provide another study in fractured communication, but the final chapter in Serge Carrefax's story returns to a kind of mental chaos, rather than the precarious control that made the rest of the book so fascinating.
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C
C by Tom McCarthy (Paperback - September 6, 2011)
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