C follows the short, intense life of Serge Carrefax, a man who - as his name suggests - surges into the electric modernity of the early twentieth century, transfixed by the technologies that will obliterate him. Born to the sound of one of the very earliest experimental wireless stations, Serge finds himself steeped in a weird world of transmissions, whose very air seems filled with cryptic and poetic signals of all kinds. When personal loss strikes him in his adolescence, this world takes on a darker and more morbid aspect. What follows is a stunning tour de force in which the eerily idyllic settings of pre-war Europe give way to the exhilarating flight-paths of the frontline aeroplane radio operator, then the prison camps of Germany, the drug-fuelled London of the roaring twenties and, finally, the ancient tombs of Egypt. Reminiscent of Bolano, Beckett and Pynchon, this is a remarkable novel - a compelling, sophisticated and sublimely imaginative book uncovering the hidden codes and dark rhythms that sustain life.
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Tom McCarthy was born in 1969 and grew up in London. His creation, in 1999, of the International Necronautical Society (INS), a 'semi-fictitious organisation' that combines literature, art and philosophy, has led to publications, installations and exhibitions in galleries and museums around the world, from Tate Britain and the ICA in London, to Moderna Museet in Stockholm and The Drawing Center in New York. Tom regularly writes on literature and art for publications including The New York Times, The London Review of Books and Artforum.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Dr. Learmont, newly appointed general practitioner for the districts of West Masedown and New Eliry, rocks and jolts on the front seat of a trap as it descends the lightly sloping path of Versoie House. He has sore buttocks: the seat’s hard and uncushioned. His companion, Mr. Dean of Hudson and Dean Deliveries (Lydium and Environs Since 1868), doesn’t seem to feel any discomfort. His glazed eyes stare vaguely ahead; his leathery hands, reins woven through their fingers, hover just above his knees. The rattle of glass bottles and the fricative rasp of copper wire against more copper wire rise from the trap’s back and, mixing with the click and shuffle of the horse’s hooves on gravel, hang undisturbed about the still September air. Above the vehicle tall conifers rise straight and inert as columns. Higher, much further out, black birds whirr silently beneath a concave vault of sky.
Between the doctor’s legs are wedged a brown case and a black inhaling apparatus. In his hand he holds a yellow piece of paper. He’s scrutinising this, perplexed, as best he can. From time to time he glances up from it to peer through the curtain of conifers, which reveal, then quickly conceal again, glimpses of mown grass and rows of smaller trees with white fruit and green and red foliage. There’s movement around these: small limbs reaching, touching and separating in a semi-regular pattern, as though practising a butterfly or breaststroke.
The trap rolls through a hanging pall of wood smoke, then turns, clearing the conifers. Now Learmont can see that the limbs belong to children, four or five of them, playing some kind of game. They stand in a loose circle, raising their arms and patting their hands together. Their lips are moving, but no sound’s emerging from them. Occasionally a squawk of laughter ricochets around the orchard, but it’s hard to tell which child it’s coming from. Besides, the laughter doesn’t sound quite right. It sounds distorted, slightly warped—ventriloquised almost, as though piped in from somewhere else. None of the children seem to notice his arrival; none of them, in fact, seem to be aware of their own individual presence outside and beyond that of the moving circle, their separateness given over to its fleshy choreography of multiplied, entwining bodies.
Without jerking the reins or speaking to the horse, Mr. Dean pulls the trap to a halt. Beside it, to its right, a narrow, still stream lies in front of a tall garden wall over which, from the far side, ferns and wisteria are spilling. To the trap’s left, a veined set of rose-bush stems and branches, flowers gone, clings to another wall. The wood-smoke pall comes from beyond this. So, too, does an old man with a rake, emerging from a doorway in the wall to shunt a wheelbarrow across the gravel.
“Hello!” Learmont calls out to him. “Hello?”
The old man stops, sets down his wheelbarrow and looks back at Learmont.
“Can you tell me where to find the main house? The entrance?”
The old man gestures with his free hand: over there. Then, taking up the handle of his wheelbarrow once more, he shuffles past the trap towards the orchard. Learmont listens as his footsteps die away. Eventually he turns to Mr. Dean and says:
“Silent as a tomb.”
Mr. Dean shrugs. Dr. Learmont climbs down onto the gravel, shakes his legs and looks around. The old man seemed to be pointing beyond the overspilling garden wall. This, too, has a small doorway in it.
“Why don’t you wait here?” Learmont suggests to Mr. Dean. “I’ll go and find—” he holds his yellow paper up and scrutinises it again—“this Mr. Carrefax.”
Mr. Dean nods. Dr. Learmont takes his case and inhaler, steps onto a strip of grass and crosses a small wooden bridge above the moat-like stream. Then, lowering his head beneath wisteria that manage to brush it nonetheless, he walks through the doorway.
Inside the garden are chrysanthemums, irises, tulips and anemones, all stacked and tumbling over one another on both sides of a path of uneven mosaic paving stones. Learmont follows the path towards a passageway formed by hedges and a roof of trellis strung with poisonberries and some kind of wiry, light-brown vine whose strands lead off to what look like stables. As he nears the passageway, he can hear a buzzing sound. He stops and listens. It seems to be coming from the stables: an intermittent, mechanical buzz. Learmont thinks of going in and asking the people operating the machinery for more directions, but, reasoning that it might be running on its own, decides instead to continue following the path. This forks to the right and, after passing through a doorway in another wall, splits into a maze-pattern that unfolds across a lawn on whose far side stands another wall containing yet another doorway. Learmont strides across the lawn and steps through this third doorway, which deposits him onto the edge of the orchard he saw as he first arrived. The large, lightly sloping gravel path he descended with Mr. Dean is now on the orchard’s far side, half-hidden by the conifers; a smaller footpath, on which he’s now standing, lies perpendicular to this, between the garden’s outer wall and the orchard’s lower edge. The children are still there, wrapped up in their mute pantomime. Learmont runs his eye beyond them: the rows of small, white-fruited trees give over to an unkempt lawn that, after sixty yards or so, turns into a field on which the odd sheep grazes. The field rises to a ridge; a telegraph line runs across this, then falls down the far side, away from view.
Learmont glances at his paper once again, then turns to his left and follows the footpath along the garden’s outer wall—until he eventually finds, at the end of this, the house.
He rings the bell, then steps back and looks up at the building. Its front is overgrown with ivy that has started to turn red. He rings the bell again, bringing his ear up to the door. This time someone’s heard it: he can hear footsteps approaching. A maid opens for him. She looks flustered: her hair is dishevelled, her sleeves rolled up and her hands and brow wet. A girl of three or four stands behind her, holding a towel. Both maid and girl look at Learmont’s case and inhaler.
“Delivery?” the maid asks.
“Well, I . . . yes,” he answers, holding up his paper. “I’ve come to—”
A man appears from within the house and pushes his way past the maid and child.
“Zinc and selenium?” he barks out.
“That’s in the trap,” Learmont replies. “But I came with it to—”
“And acid? And the reels of copper?” the man interrupts. He’s portly and his voice is booming. He must be forty, forty-four. “Came to—what?”
“I came to deliver the baby.”
“Came to—ah, yes! Deliver: of course! Splendid! You can . . . Yes, let’s see . . . Maureen can show you where . . . You say the copper’s in the drive?”
“Beyond the . . .” Dr. Learmont tries to point back past the gardens, but he can’t remember which direction he’s just come from.
“And there’s a man there with it? Perhaps you could help us to—”
“Sir . . .” the maid says.
“Maureen—what?” the man replies. Maureen gasps at him exasperatedly. He stares at her for a few seconds and then slaps his thigh and tells her: “No, of course: you take the doctor to her. Is everything . . . ?”
“Fine, sir,” Maureen informs him. “Thanks for your concern.”
“Splendid!” he booms. “Well, you just carry on. Maureen will see to it that you have everything you . . . Is that the telegram?”
He’s looking at Learmont’s yellow paper, his eyes glowing with excitement.
“I was a little confused . . .” Learmont begins, but the man grabs the paper off him and begins to read aloud:
“ ‘. . . expected next twenty-four hours’ . . . good . . . ‘parturient in labour since last night . . .’ Excellent! ‘Parturient,’ each letter crystal clear!”
“We weren’t quite sure as to the provenance . . .”
“What—provenance? Hang on: what’s this? ‘Doctor refuested as soon as . . .’? ‘Refuested’? What’s that for a damn word?”
“Sir!” Maureen says.
“She’s heard much worse,” he barks. “ ‘Refuested’? I’ve been . . . That blasted key!”
“Sweet Jesus!” says Maureen. She turns to the child and takes the towel from her. Another woman appears from the hallway, carrying a tray of biscuits out towards the orchard and trailing in her wake a cat. “Go with Miss Hubbard,” Maureen tells the child.
“. . . F . . . Q . . .” the man mumbles, then, barking again: “Provenance?”
“We weren’t quite sure of the telegram’s provenance,” Learmont explains. “It didn’t originate in the post office down the road in Lydium, yet it seemed to come down the same line which—”
“Miss Hubbard,” the man says, “wait.”
The second woman pauses in the doorway. “Yes, Mr. Carrefax?” she asks.
“Miss Hubbard, I can’t hear the children speaking,” he tells her.
“They’re playing, Mr. Carrefax,” she replies.
“Are you sure they’re not signing?”
“I told them that’s not allowed. I think they—”
“What? Told them? Telling them won’t do it on its own! You have to make them speak. All the time!”
The child is reaching her arm up to the tray of biscuits. The cat is watching the child’s efforts closely, still and tense. Maureen takes Learmont’s sleeve and starts to pull him into the house.
“The provenance, good doctor, is right here!” Mr. Carrefax booms at him as he squeezes past. “ F and Q notwithstanding. Disappointing. Fixable. The copper! In the drive, you say?”
“There’s a man waiting in a—”
“Splendid! Miss Hubbard, if I can’t hear them I’ll think they’re signing.”
“I’ll do what I can, Mr. Carrefax,” Miss Hubbard tells him.
“At all times!” he barks at her. “I want to hear them speak!”
He strides out with her, heading for the drive. The child follows the biscuits, and the cat follows the child. Maureen leads Dr. Learmont in the other direction, up the staircase. There’s a tapestry hanging above this, a silk weaving that depicts either this same staircase or one very similar to it. They cross the landing at the top and step into a room. A second tapestry hangs on the wall of this: another picture woven in silk, this time of an Oriental scene in which pony-tailed peasants reach up into trees full of the same white fruit as the ones in the orchard. Lower down the tapestry, beneath the trees, more peasants are unravelling dark balls. Beneath them, in the room itself, a woman lies supine on a bed. A bearing-down sheet has been tied around the mattress, but the woman isn’t clutching this. She’s lying back quite peacefully, although her thick brown hair is wet with sweat. A second maid sits beside her on a chair, holding her hand. The woman in the bed smiles vaguely at Learmont.
“Mrs. Carrefax?” he asks her.
She nods. Dr. Learmont sets down his canister and, opening his case across the bed, asks:
“How far apart are your contractions?”
“Three minutes,” she tells him. Her voice is soft and grainy. There’s something slightly unusual about it, something beyond fatigue, that Learmont can’t quite place: it’s not a foreign voice, but not quite native, either. He takes her blood pressure. As he removes the strap her body is seized by a new contraction. Her face scrunches, her mouth opens, but no scream or shout comes from it: just a low, barely perceptible growling. The contraction lasts for ten or fifteen seconds.
“Painful?” Learmont asks her when it’s over.
“It is as though I had been poisoned,” she replies. She turns her head away from him and gazes through the window at the sky.
“Have you been taking any painkillers?” he asks.
She doesn’t answer. He repeats the question.
“She has to see you speaking,” the bedside maid tells him.
“She has to see your lips move, sir. She’s deaf.”
He leans over the bed and waves his hand in front of Mrs. Carrefax’s face; she turns her head towards him. He repeats his question once more. She seems to understand it, but just smiles vaguely back at him again.
“Small doses of laudanum, sir,” the bedside maid says.
“I prefer chloroform,” Learmont says.
Mrs. Carrefax’s eyes light up. Her soft, grainy, strange voice utters the word “Chlorodyne?”
“No, chloro form,” Learmont tells her, pronouncing the name clearly and emphatically. He takes a gauze mask from his case and, fixing this to the end of his inhaler’s tube, straps it round Mrs. Carrefax’s face. He opens a valve on the canister’s neck; a long, slow hissing seeps out as the gas makes its way along the canvas corridor towards her mouth and nose. The muscles in Mrs. Carrefax’s cheeks slacken; her pupils dilate. After half a minute Learmont closes the valve and unstraps the mask. A second contraction soon follows; again the woman’s body seizes up, but her face registers less pain. He refixes the mask, administers more chloroform and watches the silent features further slacken and dilate beneath their gag. When he removes it again, she begins to murmur:
“. . . un fleuve . . . un serpent d’eau noir . . .”
“What’s that?” he asks.
“It is like a fall of velvet,” she tells him. “Black velvet . . . covering a camera . . .”
“That’s the chloroform,” he says.
“. . . a camera,” she tells him, “looking in the dark . . . There is a river with a water snake, swimming towards me . . . More.” Her hand releases the bedside maid’s and gestures to the canister.
“I don’t want to knock you out completely,” Dr. Learmont says. “I’ll let you—”
“Sophie!” Maureen gasps. Learmont follows her eyes towards the doorway. The child is standing in it, watching. Maureen walks over and plants herself in front of her, blocking her view of the room. “You shouldn’t be here!” she scolds—then, softening, scoops her up into her arms and says: “We’ll go and help Frieda make the kenno.” As Learmont listens to her heavy footsteps descending the staircase, another contraction takes hold of Mrs. Carrefax. He takes from his case a bottle of carbolic acid and tells the bedside maid to go and fetch him olive oil.
“Olive oil, sir?” she repeats.
“Yes,” he answers, rolling up his sleeves. “Not long to wait now.”
But there is long to wait: all afternoon, and more. He leaves the room twice: once to stretch his legs in the hallway, from whose window he watches Mr. Carrefax and Mr. Dean carrying the coils of copper wire and crates of bottles through the walled-in garden to the stables; once to eat some sandwiches the maids have knocked up for him. He administers more chloroform and hears, above the hiss, the sound of Mr. Dean’s...
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Book Description Jonathan Cape Ltd, 2010. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # 0224090208
Book Description Jonathan Cape, 2010. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Dust Jacket Condition: New. 1st Edition. Mint ccondition.Jonathan Cape,2010.First UK edition-2nd printing(2 4 6 8 10 9 7 5 3).Black hardback with Dj,both in mint condition.310pp.Price un-clipped. This is another paragraph Product Description: C follows the short, intense life of Serge Carrefax, a man who - as his name suggests - surges into the electric modernity of the early twentieth century, transfixed by the technologies that will obliterate him. Born to the sound of one of the very earliest experimental wireless stations, Serge finds himself steeped in a weird world of transmissions, whose very air seems filled with cryptic and poetic signals of all kinds. When personal loss strikes him in his adolescence, this world takes on a darker and more morbid aspect. What follows is a stunning tour de force in which the eerily idyllic settings of pre-war Europe give way to the exhilarating flight-paths of the frontline aeroplane radio operator, then the prison camps of Germany, the drug-fuelled London of the roaring twenties and, finally, the ancient tombs of Egypt. Reminiscent of Bolano, Beckett and Pynchon, this is a remarkable novel - a compelling, sophisticated and sublimely imaginative book uncovering the hidden codes and dark rhythms that sustain life. Bookseller Inventory # 4537
Book Description Jonathan Cape Ltd, UK, 2010. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Dust Jacket Condition: New. First Edition, First Impression. Signed first edition - as-new copy. Synopsis "C" follows the short, intense life of Serge Carrefax, a man who - as his name suggests - surges into the electric modernity of the early twentieth century, transfixed by the technologies that will obliterate him. Born to the sound of one of the very earliest experimental wireless stations, Serge finds himself steeped in a weird world of transmissions, whose very air seems filled with cryptic and poetic signals of all kinds. When personal loss strikes him in his adolescence, this world takes on a darker and more morbid aspect. What follows is a stunning tour de force in which the eerily idyllic settings of pre-war Europe give way to the exhilarating flight-paths of the frontline aeroplane radio operator, then the prison camps of Germany, the drug-fuelled London of the roaring twenties and, finally, the ancient tombs of Egypt. Reminiscent of Bolano, Beckett and Pynchon, this is a remarkable novel - a compelling, sophisticated and sublimely imaginative book uncovering the hidden codes and dark rhythms that sustain life. Signed by Author(s). Bookseller Inventory # 000446