Tom McCarthy's C is my current commute + night-time reading. Except that I am so scatterbrained at the moment that I only manage a few pages every other day and it is almost due back at the library. Still, I am really enjoying it as I suspected I would. Except it is not the book I thought it was going to be. This is an enjoyable thing too. I have only read the first part - the part which outlines Serge Carrefax' childhood - which is set amongst silk production, deaf children and mad-cap amateur scientists in the early parts of the 20th Century. Interestingly, this first part is strongly, strongly reminiscent of AS Byatt's latest novel, The Children's Book. The plot similarities are there: vague mothers, precocious children hiding in the woods, unsettling amateur theatre productions, bizarre charity work, and unravelling bohemian family life circa 1900. Stylistically the two books are oddly similar too and use many of the same tricks: fragments of verse flowing through the narrative, the dichotomy of muteness/speech, and a certain learnéd verbosity knowingly reined in.
I think the book might be about to change. Serge is heading for a sanatorium in Eastern Europe. I shall expect echoes of Joyce and Mann. So far I like C a lot even if it is not a high-flying avant-garde homage to Modernism but rather a literary book about ideas. I like literary books about ideas.
Incidentally, I googled Byatt + McCarthy and found this lovely review from The London Review of Books. I particularly take great pleasure in this tidbit:
Like McCarthy, I used to get exasperated by the self-impoverished narrowness of mainstream British so-called ‘literary’ literature, its obsession with Amises and McEwans, its deliberate ignorance of so much else; after a while, I realised this was not a literary but a cultic matter, to do with fertility rites and myths of social renewal. I remember that in the early 1980s on Channel 4 there was a chaotic late-night chat show, which my memory frames as having on it Vi Subversa from the Poison Girls, crowning Boy George as the young god of the year just out. As she did so, she warned him that the promise of regeneration embodied by his figure could be made good only with his sacrifice. As with hindsight, it duly was, as for Jesus and Osiris and Gazza and Martin Amis.
Recently I also found Sell the Girls, a blog entry about the old chestnut known as "dead white men and poor suppressed women writers". I happen to like reading books and poetry by Dead White men and I've often had to defend myself against outraged feminist students who thought I was betraying my gender. Seeing as these outraged feminist students frequently did not show up to extracurricular seminars because they had to do the dishes before their boyfriends came home (true story), I rarely paid them much attention.
However, the blogger behind Sell the Girls is vastly more genuine in her outrage and brings her own experience from the publishing world to the table:
I suggest that perhaps what we ought to consider is the presentation and the representation of the female author, because—and I speak from hard experience here—a female author is simply marketed and presented differently. From the color and tone of the cover, to the review coverage, to the placement, to the back cover copy, to the general perceptions of female issues.
Jane Austen was "girlified" a few years back, of course and, famously, Joanne Rowling was advised to call herself JK Rowling or no boys would want to read Harry Potter. Other than that, I struggle to recognise a world where Dead White Men are taught to the exclusion of female writers. I remember being taught Mary Sidney, Lady Mary Wroth, Aphra Behn, Mary Wollstonecraft (and her daughter), Fanny Burney, Austen, the Brontës, George Eliot etc and that is even before we get to the 20th C. Maybe I was just lucky with my tutors.
Scatterbrained. I meant to say something profound about Sell the Girls but I lost it.