It’s been a week since I finished our first book club book, Tom McCarthy’s C, and I’m glad I waited to write about it. Had I written upon it last week, I think my opinions would have been less generous.
Last week, upon finishing, I let myself read reviews of the book – something I seldom do before reading the book – I enjoy not knowing what to expect of a book even if I’ve gathered a small handful of information through just mentioning the book to friends or reading the jacket copy. In short, I like to make my own decisions, but I can also be influenced easily by others’ opinions.
Spoiler alert! Read no further if you haven’t finished.
I enjoyed reading parts of C. There are recurring images and themes that pop up in really satisfying ways throughout. Morse code, scientific formulas, bodies in various states of disrepair, beetles and bees and silkworms.
I thought Serge’s sister was a terrific character. Too bad she gets killed off early on. I thought his relationship with his masseuse was delightful at Klonebrady. She was also a complex character that it was nice to see the main character fall for the unlikely love interest. I liked Audrey the actress with the drug problem. I liked Laura the archaeologist in Egypt. Many of the female characters were well-drawn: smart and complicated. Serge seemed rather one-dimensional to me, but I get that that might have been intentional. He’s almost a sounding board for the experiences of the book and the women he attaches himself to.
The way the book wraps up, with Serge hallucinating his last hours away on a train, having fallen victim to the bite of the scarab beetle in an Egyptian tomb, at first struck me as cheap – very “And then I woke up.” The more I read though, the more it seemed like the perfect confluence of those images McCarthy had woven so intricately throughout, and so I accepted it. I find myself thinking about endings often. As a professor once said, “An ending is often the thumb in the photograph,” and I couldn’t agree more. If your disbelief has been suspended for the whole book, neatly tying up the plot often feels fake and forced and you can see the hand of the creator plain and clear. This ending ties up the book in a way that both allows the reader to feel that nothing ends cleanly and also shines a spotlight on the writer making it clear that every bit of it was orchestrated.
My beef comes with the reviews. Every review (previously linked in the last C post) seems to think that C is some radical new direction for the novel. Perhaps I’ve just been reading strange books for too long, but there is nothing except that ending that feels new or surprising or alternative to me. It is basically a bildungsroman employing creative use of historical detail capped off by a David Lynch dream sequence. Perhaps I’m missing something? Who read it? Who feels this is the answer to all our worries about the death of the novel? I need a hand.