Tom McCarthy’s C (Knopf, $25.95) is a novel unlike any you’ve ever read. The story begins with the birth of Serge Carrafax at the dawn of the 20th century, and follows him from adolescence to maturity through a number of the hallmark events of the period. Carrafax is obsessed with radio communication and technology, and serves as an artillery observer in World War I. He’s later addicted to cocaine and morphine, and delves into the culture of the séance salons of London; in Egypt, he carries out a spy mission under the guise of being a surveyor. McCarthy’s use of language and allusion, metaphor and symbol, offers the reader an experience akin to an archeological dig, as the novel’s many layers slowly yield their secrets.
A boisterous romp through a present-day London that looks an awful lot like the vividly imagined worlds of William Gibson’s early work, ZERO HISTORY (Putnam, $26.95) retains the polysyllabic exoticism in description that is Gibson’s own, but feels lighter, even amusing. It seems that techno-dystopia isn’t so bad, really, when you live there every day. This book completes (presumably) the informal so-called Hubertus Bigend trilogy, although each book also works as a stand-alone novel. A perfect holiday read, enjoyable, approachable, and yet not without substance. Finding profundity and insight that doesn’t take itself too seriously? This guy gets it, and so should you.
“Welcome to the land of the unfortunate and the deserted”: the landscape of Yiyun Li’s third book is littered with loss: unrequited love, suicides, children dead or given away. But the tragedies happen off-stage; Li uses them to set the scenes for the nine impeccably crafted and compassionate stories of GOLD BOY, EMERALD GIRL (Random House, $25). Concentrating on how to form connections without getting hurt, Li’s characters look for ordinary kindness, often from strangers, when love proves too painful or constraining. If loneliness can’t be willed away or dissolved in work, people find ways to “make a world that would accommodate it.” Above all, the gaps in life are filled with stories. An unhappy wife spends her days reading Chinese romances. A retired professor mentors a girl by reading her the novels of Hardy and Lawrence. A child growing up in an emotionally repressed household finds that “all sorts of tales will come to find you”; you only need to go out and listen.