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Book review: 'C' by Tom McCarthy

With cryptic and inventive flourish, the author gives an epic account of a precocious boy's journey to adulthood.

September 12, 2010|By Meehan Crist | Special to the Los Angeles Times

Perhaps the most important associations arise from Serge's name. The letter C — which stands for Carrefax, copper, communication, cachectic, cysteine, crypt, cryptogram, Cypriot, Cairo, communion, Christ, canopic, Comintern, Corona, Cupid, the final "call" — is also the symbol for carbon, the chemical basis of life (not to mention that graphite — from the Greek, "to write" — is a common allotrope of carbon). In Egypt, Serge discovers an endless maze of crypts: Death is endless at the birthplace of human civilization, history repeats itself (copy, CC, carbonisé, carbon). Soon after, he falls ill and experiences his own material nature with fantastic clarity:

"He's merging with the void: seared, shot through, carbonisé, he's become the sea of ink, the distance between planets, the space across which signals travel. Like time itself, he's flattening, turning into carbon paper: the black smear between the sheets, the surface through which things repeat, CC themselves, but that will itself always remain black, and blank."

"C" is coming-of-age as philosophy, philosophy as fiction, fiction as "dummy-chamber" ("the real thing's beyond") — the novel as encrypted code for life.

Crist is reviews editor at the Believer and the author of the forthcoming book "Everything After."

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