Posted by: billpurdue | January 6, 2011

Happy New Year!

I’m going to start by quoting in full a comment I received after posting the last blog of 2010 which was all about railway books. I mentioned  a book by railway photographer Colin Gifford which prompted this response from Patrick Allitt;

“I saw your post about Colin Gifford, one of the very greatest British railway photographers. I grew up in Mickleover, Derbyshire (born in 1956) and was a terrific railway enthusiast as a child. I live in America now but on visits to Britain I often visit the National Railway Museum in York. A few years ago they had an exhibition of Colin Gifford photographs. Magnificent! I was able to get a copy of his book _And Gone Forever_ there, but haven’t managed to find any of the others. To open that book is to be carried back instantly into the smoky, sooty, but delightful world of the steam railways that enchanted my childhood.”

Many thanks Patrick: you’ve described very eloquently the charm of Giffords photographs: I couldn’t have put it better myself. Anyway, perhaps I should write a little more about railway books .

As a book blogger, I suppose I shouldn’t say that, after having read a book, I didn’t know what to make of it. Unfortunately this is the final impression I got from C by Tom McCarthy [Jonathan Cape £16.99 9780224090209]. C is the life story of Serge Carrefax, set in the early 1900s and told in the present tense throughout, starting with his childhood in a big house where his father runs a school for deaf children and his mother runs a silk factory making silk in the old traditional way.

Serge is fascinated by the new invention of radio, makes his own radio set and listens to whatever broadcasts he can find by surfing through the airwaves. His sister loves to perform experiments with various chemicals and this leads to her downfall when she apparently drinks cyanide which she has mistaken for a glass of water.

The novel is a series of episodes in Serge’s life for we skip from Serge’s life at home to his trip to take the waters at an east European spa town to take the cure. He appears to be suffering from some kind of stomach problem, but in the next section of the book, this is practically forgotten when he joins the armed forces and becomes a gunner on a fighter plane in the First World War. It’s at this stage in his life that he discovers drugs, though he doesn’t appear to become an addict.

More episodes in Serge’s short life follow until he finds himself in Egypt where the theme of radio or communication is continued. I’m not going to say how the book ends, but there’s no subtle twist of the plot or thrilling denouement. It just left me a bit puzzled. Looking at reactions by others, opinions seem very mixed, unlike some of the  reviews in the newspapers which rave about it.

I’d be interested to know if anyone else reading this has read C and what they thought about it.

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