Tom McCarthy’s novel C covers a large amount of ideas in its three hundred plus pages. At the start of the book, Serge Carrefax, the book’s main character, has a father who runs a school for the deaf and a sister who grows obsessed with cracking code (and soon after descends into madness). But this is only Sege’s first stop in the novel. Throughout the rest of the book he spends time at a strange German spa, miraculously survives World War I as a gunner in a fighter plane, develops a rather severe drug problem in London, and ends the book in post-independence Egypt where he seems to be involved in setting up a wireless radio system.
The author’s apparent preference for ideas over conventional character development doesn’t always make for easy reading. A fellow soldier’s long speech on the challenges of trying to capture World War I aerial combat in visual art drags on and would probably be of interest to only the most avid World War I buff. McCarthy also seems to enjoy creating great supporting characters such as Serge’s sister Sophie or a woman he starts seeing at the spa only to abruptly abandon them in order to jump to Serge’s next adventure. Serge isn’t the most dynamic of main characters. It’s obvious he is not supposed to be a hero in any kind of conventional sense, but he too often comes off more as an apparition wandering through the various scenes than a real person. Yet there are many entertaining scenes, such as Serge’s use of early radio technology to reveal that a psychic, himself using the same technology to trick his audience, is a fraud. In fact, every section of the book has plenty of great scenes, whether it’s strafing enemy barracks in World War I or simple slice-of-life scenes between Serge and various supporting characters.
Despite some of the complaints I’ve just listed, I would definitely at least start another book by McCarthy, but I would hope that his next novel might more closely resemble a conventional novel than the more experimental book that is C.