Tom McCarthy: C

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Tom McCarthy C
  • Название:
    C
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  • Жанр:
    Современная проза / на английском языке
  • Язык:
    Английский
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    4 / 5
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C: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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A brilliant epochal saga from the acclaimed author of Remainder ('One of the great English novels of the past ten years' – Zadie Smith), C takes place in the early years of the twentieth century and ranges from western England to Europe to North Africa. Serge Carrefax spends his childhood at Versoie House, where his father teaches deaf children to speak when he's not experimenting with wireless telegraphy. Sophie, Serge's sister and only connection to the world at large, takes outrageous liberties with Serge's young body – which may explain the unusual sexual predilections that haunt him for the rest of his life. After recuperating from a mysterious illness at a Bohemian spa, Serge serves in World War I as a radio operator. C culminates in a bizarre scene in an Egyptian catacomb where all Serge's paths and relationships at last converge. Tom McCarthy's mesmerizing, often hilarious accomplishment effortlessly blends the generational breadth of Ian McEwan with the postmodern wit of Thomas Pynchon and marks a writer rapidly becoming one of the most significant and original voices of his generation.

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Tom McCarthy


C

© 2010

FOR EVA STENRAM

Ourselves must we beneath the Couch of Earth

Descend, ourselves to make a Couch-for whom?

– OMAR KHAYYÁM


Part One – Caul

1

i

Dr. Learmont, newly appointed general practitioner for the districts of West Masedown and New Eliry, rocks and jolts on the front seat of a trap as it descends the lightly sloping path of Versoie House. He has sore buttocks: the seat’s hard and uncushioned. His companion, Mr. Dean of Hudson and Dean Deliveries (Lydium and Environs Since 1868), doesn’t seem to feel any discomfort. His glazed eyes stare vaguely ahead; his leathery hands, reins woven through their fingers, hover just above his knees. The rattle of glass bottles and the fricative rasp of copper wire against more copper wire rise from the trap’s back and, mixing with the click and shuffle of the horse’s hooves on gravel, hang undisturbed about the still September air. Above the vehicle tall conifers rise straight and inert as columns. Higher, much further out, black birds whirr silently beneath a concave vault of sky.

Between the doctor’s legs are wedged a brown case and a black inhaling apparatus. In his hand he holds a yellow piece of paper. He’s scrutinising this, perplexed, as best he can. From time to time he glances up from it to peer through the curtain of conifers, which reveal, then quickly conceal again, glimpses of mown grass and rows of smaller trees with white fruit and green and red foliage. There’s movement around these: small limbs reaching, touching and separating in a semi-regular pattern, as though practising a butterfly or breaststroke.

The trap rolls through a hanging pall of wood smoke, then turns, clearing the conifers. Now Learmont can see that the limbs belong to children, four or five of them, playing some kind of game. They stand in a loose circle, raising their arms and patting their hands together. Their lips are moving, but no sound’s emerging from them. Occasionally a squawk of laughter ricochets around the orchard, but it’s hard to tell which child it’s coming from. Besides, the laughter doesn’t sound quite right. It sounds distorted, slightly warped-ventriloquised almost, as though piped in from somewhere else. None of the children seem to notice his arrival; none of them, in fact, seem to be aware of their own individual presence outside and beyond that of the moving circle, their separateness given over to its fleshy choreography of multiplied, entwining bodies.

Without jerking the reins or speaking to the horse, Mr. Dean pulls the trap to a halt. Beside it, to its right, a narrow, still stream lies in front of a tall garden wall over which, from the far side, ferns and wisteria are spilling. To the trap’s left, a veined set of rose-bush stems and branches, flowers gone, clings to another wall. The wood-smoke pall comes from beyond this. So, too, does an old man with a rake, emerging from a doorway in the wall to shunt a wheelbarrow across the gravel.

“Hello!” Learmont calls out to him. “Hello?”

The old man stops, sets down his wheelbarrow and looks back at Learmont.

“Can you tell me where to find the main house? The entrance?”

The old man gestures with his free hand: over there. Then, taking up the handle of his wheelbarrow once more, he shuffles past the trap towards the orchard. Learmont listens as his footsteps die away. Eventually he turns to Mr. Dean and says:

“Silent as a tomb.”

Mr. Dean shrugs. Dr. Learmont climbs down onto the gravel, shakes his legs and looks around. The old man seemed to be pointing beyond the overspilling garden wall. This, too, has a small doorway in it.

“Why don’t you wait here?” Learmont suggests to Mr. Dean. “I’ll go and find-” he holds his yellow paper up and scrutinises it again-“this Mr. Carrefax.”

Mr. Dean nods. Dr. Learmont takes his case and inhaler, steps onto a strip of grass and crosses a small wooden bridge above the moat-like stream. Then, lowering his head beneath wisteria that manage to brush it nonetheless, he walks through the doorway.

Inside the garden are chrysanthemums, irises, tulips and anemones, all stacked and tumbling over one another on both sides of a path of uneven mosaic paving stones. Learmont follows the path towards a passageway formed by hedges and a roof of trellis strung with poisonberries and some kind of wiry, light-brown vine whose strands lead off to what look like stables. As he nears the passageway, he can hear a buzzing sound. He stops and listens. It seems to be coming from the stables: an intermittent, mechanical buzz. Learmont thinks of going in and asking the people operating the machinery for more directions, but, reasoning that it might be running on its own, decides instead to continue following the path. This forks to the right and, after passing through a doorway in another wall, splits into a maze-pattern that unfolds across a lawn on whose far side stands another wall containing yet another doorway. Learmont strides across the lawn and steps through this third doorway, which deposits him onto the edge of the orchard he saw as he first arrived. The large, lightly sloping gravel path he descended with Mr. Dean is now on the orchard’s far side, half-hidden by the conifers; a smaller footpath, on which he’s now standing, lies perpendicular to this, between the garden’s outer wall and the orchard’s lower edge. The children are still there, wrapped up in their mute pantomime. Learmont runs his eye beyond them: the rows of small, white-fruited trees give over to an unkempt lawn that, after sixty yards or so, turns into a field on which the odd sheep grazes. The field rises to a ridge; a telegraph line runs across this, then falls down the far side, away from view.

Learmont glances at his paper once again, then turns to his left and follows the footpath along the garden’s outer wall-until he eventually finds, at the end of this, the house.

ii

He rings the bell, then steps back and looks up at the building. Its front is overgrown with ivy that has started to turn red. He rings the bell again, bringing his ear up to the door. This time someone’s heard it: he can hear footsteps approaching. A maid opens for him. She looks flustered: her hair is dishevelled, her sleeves rolled up and her hands and brow wet. A girl of three or four stands behind her, holding a towel. Both maid and girl look at Learmont’s case and inhaler.

“Delivery?” the maid asks.

“Well, I… yes,” he answers, holding up his paper. “I’ve come to-”

“A man appears from within the house and pushes his way past the maid and child.

“Zinc and selenium?” he barks out.

“That’s in the trap,” Learmont replies. “But I came with it to-”

“And acid? And the reels of copper?” the man interrupts. He’s portly and his voice is booming. He must be forty, forty-four. “Came to-what?”

“I came to deliver the baby.”

“Came to-ah, yes! Deliver: of course! Splendid! You can… Yes, let’s see… Maureen can show you where… You say the copper’s in the drive?”

“Beyond the…” Dr. Learmont tries to point back past the gardens, but he can’t remember which direction he’s just come from.

“And there’s a man there with it? Perhaps you could help us to-”

“Sir…” the maid says.

“Maureen-what?” the man replies. Maureen gasps at him exasperatedly. He stares at her for a few seconds and then slaps his thigh and tells her: “No, of course: you take the doctor to her. Is everything…?”

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