The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture



Best known previously for his art-house novel Remainder and saving literature from itself, author Tom McCarthy has been pretty much everywhere since the somewhat surprising inclusion of his new novel C on the Booker long-list. Tom may not actually be bigger than Jesus — or the bookies favourite — but he certainly does give good interview…

To James Purdon for The Observer :

“The avant garde can’t be ignored, so to ignore it – as most humanist British novelists do – is the equivalent of ignoring Darwin. Then you’re just a creationist. It’s ostrich-like. It needs to be worked through – which is not the same thing as imitation…

People use [‘experimental’] when what they actually mean is ‘not conforming to a certain type of realism’, and that’s just as much a literary convention as anything else. Burroughs said his ‘cut-up’ writing was more realistic than Jane Austen. I think he was right. You’re being assailed by associations and networks. Everything is a code…”

To Tim Robey for The Telegraph :

“We exist because we are awash in a sea of transmission, with language and technology rushing through us…”

And to Stuart Evers for The New Statesman:

“Commentators and critics seem to want fiction either to be blatantly avant-garde and postmodern, or to be realist and 19th century; but really most literature is neither nor… ‘The avant-garde’ describes a specific historical moment that belongs to the early part of the 20th century. Certainly in C there is a huge amount of that moment behind the writing; the avant-garde is definitely embedded in it. But at the same time I think it gets used as catch-all term now for something that isn’t retrograde, anything that’s not a kind of nostalgic, kitsch version of the 19th-century novel, which is what much of middlebrow fiction right now is.”

C has been reviewed by Christopher Taylor at The Guardian and by John Self at Asylum, and you can keep track of Tom various comings and goings at Surplus Matter.

My interview with Tom McCarthy and book designer Peter Mendelsund is here.

Update: The fine folks at 3:AM Magazine have also posted an interview with Tom about C.

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  1. You have made me want to read a McCarthy novel now! I love the reference to William S Burroughs and Austen. Which one of his novels would you recommend?

  2. Hi Fiona. Personally I would recommend Remainder. I’m a sucker for unreliable narrators and I think Remainder is, in a way, also the most self-contained of Tom’s novels. But I would compare Remainder to J G Ballard or Paul Auster rather than Burroughs or Austen, so if you don’t like that kind of stark weirdness then it might not be for you… C is very different — there’s more ‘story’ I guess, and it is perhaps a more traditional novel than Remainder (at least superficially), so it might be a better place to start?

  3. Dan, you’ve done a fine job of promoting McCarthy because I’m sold too. I need to make time to read this once I’ve finished my other (Cormac) McCarthy binge.

  4. Jacob, you should pick up Tom’s books just for the covers — John Gall designed Remainder, Peter Mendelsund C! But seriously, Remainder isn’t actually that long a novel and I would definitely recommend it. Very different from Cormac though. ;-)

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