Sometimes my six year old will give me the initial of something he wants and then just leave it at that. For example, I'll ask what he wants for breakfast and he'll say "M": "milk?", "mushrooms", what? What do you want for breakfast. He'll just smile enigmatically and wait for me to get around to guessing his desire. If I have time, I play along. If I don't (school day, must feed children, put them in car, and get them to school so I can get to work), then I walk away and tell him that I'd be happy to help him with breakfast when he is ready to talk.
This book was kinda like that. Certainly the title doesn't help..does C stand for "cocaine"? "communication"? "carbonise"? "carbon"? (as suggested by Laura in the crypt..ha there's another C). All of these would be applicable and rather than be astounded at McCarthy's genius (because really isn't having multiple references just that), instead I'm left feeling annoyed and in a hurry. Please, just tell me what you want here.
That said, there were some interesting quotes and moments in the novel, but overall I did not find Serge particularly moving or interesting. He simply was a vessel (which might be a message of sorts, is he the wire?) through which McCarthy told this story. Far from having any motivation himself, Serge just sort of moves through the world at his own pace and doing whatever comes across his path. In a lot of ways, this book reminded me of Byatt's The Children's Book (English family in the pre-WWI time period), and especially Tom (with his directionless perspective). However, Tom's lack of perspective (yeah, yeah I'm using the word intentionally here) was met with a much more believable suicidal death while Serge simply floats along until he is bit by a bug and contracts a disease (not sure if this was a metaphor here for STD or AIDS..all that unprotected sex) which sends him into some crazy dream before he dies.
I liked the advent of the machinery; Simeon was too late with the birth of his telegraph machine (even though it comes on the day of Serge's birth) and did not win the race for scientific acknowledgement. He does continue to develop more technology, though and Serge (since the machine is his half-brother twin?) is also caught up in the electronic advancement. I loved his comment about "no operator under twenty would bother to tap out the whole word." Seemed so apropos of today's txting mania (yes "e" left out on purpose not a typo).
I also liked that McCarthy does not resolve Serge's parenthood. The first allusion is by Sophie the night before her suicide. Certainly she has become great friends with Widsun (who we are left to understand is Serge's real father) and he might have told her, but no one ever comes out and gives the reader clear understanding of either Serge or Sophie's paternity.
I found the whole WWI section (while he was acting as observer, not later when he was POW) to be just too similar to Catch 22 (realizing the differences between the two wars). His references later to all the spies that are spying on each other (both with Macauley in the office and later on the boat wondering what each government agent is doing there) all seem caught up in the this mock-bureaucratic idea. I get the comments, but nothing seems original. There were a lot of pages here in which Serge (supposedly our loveable main character) doesn't really do much and the bureaucratic insults are nothing new. Seemed just a waste of space.
"We're free when we're able to bridge the gap between our sensory impressions of the outer world, on the one hand, and, on the other, our own thoughts." I loved this quote. It reminds me of a discussion I had a while ago about finding a "happy Hegel" place: true happiness comes from within; despite what is happening to you or for you or with you, you must be at peace with yourself.
After the war, when Serge returns home he finds it too small. Again, this was well written and interesting (and something that happens to us all once we return to childhood locations) and I liked the imagery: "Versoie seems smaller...a passage each of whose sections used to comprise a world, expansive beyond comprehension, filled with organic density and volume, with the possibilities of what might take place in it, riven with enclaves and proclivities every one of which itself comprised a world within the world; on to infinity--now seems like a small inconsequential circuit".
After entering the drug world, Serge comes to realize that everyone is part of it (or not really, but could be). Again, there is a great quote: "He also comes to realize just how many of his fellow citizens are subject to the same vices as him. He picks up the telltale signals all over town: the sniffs, the slightly jaundiced skin, the hands jerky and limp by turns, eyes dull yet somehow restless too." And later "The dope fiends, especially, display them; the cocaine-sniffers too, when they're not temporarily fired up with charges that will run down in minutes, leaving them more empty than before. It's like a city of the living dead." Drug users and veterans as zombies...again not an original thought, but originally described.
Finally, his last real act in the novel is to have sex with Laura in the tunnel is highly charged with metaphor and previous references. Obviously, his earlier tunneling as a POW (and masturbation) has alluded to this moment. Certainly the fact that one of the rooms shows that the room above has collapsed into it reminds the reader of Serge's thoughts as an observer when the Brits were "undermining" the Germans who were then "undermining" them and creating tunnels that go as deep as the earth's core (or not really). And (as alluded to above), the creature that bites him on the ankle and ultimately kills him can be a number of things (all of which would be C items of course..ha) that ultimately end our protagonists journey.
There was a lot densely packed into this novel. It had some interesting points, but overall there wasn't anything that gave me the "wow" factor and the title (or lack thereof) was just too much of a distraction for me.