Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Book of the Week and Bibliography - Tom McCarthy, C

"C" was longlisted ahead of publication for the Booker Prize, and has just been released. It is likely to draw Tom McCarthy to wide public attention, particularly if it makes the shortlist. Copies are plentiful at present, and many seem signed, so there is no difficulty picking up a first edition. Reprinting is apparently taking place - the acetate jacket of the first edition is being preserved for the second printing, but will probably then disappear.

McCarthy is an interesting character - a writer and conceptual artist born in 1969 and living in central London. Since 1999 McCarthy has operated as 'General Secretary' of a 'semi-fictitious organisation' called the International Necronautical Society (INS), a reprise of early twentieth century avant-garde groupings.  The INS operates through publications, live events, media interventions and more conventional art exhibitions. For details of his activities in this regard, I refer readers to the Society's website.

McCarthy has also made artworks outside of his role as INS General Secretary. In 2005 he exhibited in Vancouver a multimedia installation piece 'Greenwich Degree Zero', produced in collaboration with artist Rod Dickinson, which (in a tribute to Joseph Conrad's 1907 novel The Secret Agent), depicted the Greenwich Observatory burning the ground. The piece was subsequently purchased by the Arts Council England's permanent collection. In 2006 he collaborated with French artist Loris Gréaud to produce an 'Ontic Helpline' for a fictitious 'Thanatalogical Corporation' - a black telephone that transfers callers through an endless loop of pre-recorded messages. The telephone was displayed in the FiAC collection in Paris, and purchased by gallerists/collectors Solene Guillier and Nathalie Boutin.

This is also an opportune moment to look at McCarthy's back catalogue, which offers a number of attractions. He is a relatively young, innovative author, and given his track record there is a reasonable chance that he will go on to wider success. His previous novels were positively reviewed, and limited editions exist of both. In addition, there are a number of uncommon minor items for the completist. These are interesting characteristics from the perspective of a collector with a long term view!

"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.


The bibliography below may be incomplete, and I would welcome suggestions of additional items. There are several authors working under the name Tom McCarthy, which means that not all books identified using this search will belong to the current author. I am reasonably confident that the entries below are correct!


Remainder - 2005, Metronome Press, Paris. A paperback with a run of 750 copies, currently unavailable.

UK first edition 2006 from Alma Books,Surrey - Hardcover in dustwrapper; a 200 copy limited edition was numbered and signed by the Author, plus a trade edition in a different dustwrapper.

Men in Space, Alma Books, Surrey, 2008. Hardcover in a 250 copy limited edition numbered and signed by the Author to the limitation page, plus a trade edition.

C, Jonathan Cape, London, 2010. Decorated Boards in acetate jacket.

Other books and pamphlets:

2002 - Navigation Was Always a Difficult Art. General Secretary's Report to the International Necronautical Society (Vargas Organisation, London). Pamphlet – currently unavailable (see below).

2003 - Calling All Agents: Transmission, Death, Technology. General Secretary's Report to the International Necronautical Society (Vagras Organisation, London). Pamphlet – currently unavailable (see below).

“The two INS General Secretary’s reports are now out of print. For the time being no reprint is planned. However, the INS Department of Propaganda has authorised a numbered series of authorised copies to be issued, in accordance with the INS Declaration on Inauthenticity. These are expected to be available from 1 September 2010.”

2007 - Tintin and the Secret of Literature, Granta Books. Hardcover with dustwrapper.

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