Monday, 7 February 2011

C drive

I wonder if someone could explain why the paperback edition of a book routinely comes out one year after the hardback. I realise publishing works by its own arcane schedule but surely in a time of digital delivery, books could follow films, for instance, which increasingly appear on DVD/ Bluray closer to their public opening (oftentimes a cinema release is little more than a shop window for the DVD, there to garner approving reviews and buyer recognition). Book-wise, take Tom McCarthy's excellent C, which came out last autumn and was Booker shortlisted; having built up a head of steam of critical acclaim, paperback buyers now have to wait until August for their copy (after most people have gone on holiday, too?).

C is a rich construction, starting with hints of John Updike, passing through the spas of mittel Europa to Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria. At its centre is Serge Carrefax, who moves briefly to Bloomsbury as a student: 'He stops off... for his breakfast, in a Turkish café on Lamb's Conduit Street: a syrupy, layered baklava... Sucking walnut pieces from the gaps between his teeth, he strolls through Russell Square Gardens, trying to work out the logic governing the fountains' spurting sequences... then skirts the stone lion-guarded rear wall of the British Museum and, finally (and always anticlockwise), follows the fence-rails round the closed garden in Bedford Square until their long ellipse deposits him a few yards from the Architectural Association's front door.'

As with the characters in Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky, Soho is a fascination, particularly 'the web of streets that lurk within the triangle formed by Shaftesbury Avenue, Charing Cross Road and the north edge of Leicester Square. He first stumbled across the area when he went to Mrs Fox's Café in Little Newport Street...'

The novel views history through a modern prism even clairvoyant: speaking of Egypt, one character notes: 'These are "interesting times," as the old Chinese curse would have it. There's… stuff happening in Egypt that I'd like to keep abreast of.' A book of codes and signals, Serge finds himself at the centre of a communication hub, increasingly confused by information and counter-information. In the war he became hooked on drugs to sharpen his eyesight as a spotter, now his hearing becomes blurred amid the hubbub of messages.

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