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Adventures of the Black Box

Tom McCarthy, 18 November 2021

... Being​ much plagued by insomnia, some years ago I took to reading, as I tried to drift off to sleep, a collection of dialogues recovered from the flight recorders of crashed aeroplanes. These transcripts, rendered on the page in conventional dramatic format, followed a uniform narrative arc: a mishmash of cockpit directions, communication with air traffic control, and with passengers and stewardesses, banal chit-chat about family or food (Krispy Kreme donuts seem to be a favourite of US pilots) suddenly giving way to concern about an unexpected bang or shudder or an unresponsive flap or lever; rapidly escalating to blind panic as the situation turns critical; then, inevitably, the same denouement ...

Straight to the Multiplex

Tom McCarthy: Steven Hall’s ‘The Raw Shark Texts’, 1 November 2007

The Raw Shark Texts 
by Steven Hall.
Canongate, 368 pp., £12.99, March 2007, 978 1 84195 902 3
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... Six years ago, at the First Committee Meeting of the International Necronautical Society, an organisation set up to explore ‘the cultural parameters of death’ – why not? – the INS’s Chief Obituary Reviewer (my sister Melissa) announced that she would be conducting a study of surfers, whom she ‘suspected were onto something’. Six months later, I and other INS committee members cross-examined her about her findings in an art gallery that had been adapted to look and function like a sinister Hearings Camera: microphones, stenographers, press area – that sort of thing ...

Writing Machines

Tom McCarthy: On Realism and the Real, 18 December 2014

... In the introduction​ to the 1995 reissue of his 1973 masterpiece Crash, J.G. Ballard discusses ‘the balance between fiction and reality’. ‘We live,’ he writes, in a world ruled by fictions of every kind – mass merchandising, advertising, politics conducted as a branch of advertising, the pre-empting of any original response to experience by the television screen ...

‘Ulysses’ and Its Wake

Tom McCarthy, 19 June 2014

... How​ do you write after Ulysses? It isn’t just that Joyce writes better than anyone else (although he does), it’s the sense that Ulysses’s publication represents a kind of rapture for literature, an event that’s both ecstatic and catastrophic, perhaps even apocalyptic. A certain naive realism is no longer possible after it, and every alternative, every avant-garde manoeuvre imaginable has been anticipated and exhausted by it too ...

Stabbing the Olive

Tom McCarthy: Toussaint, 11 February 2010

Running Away 
by Jean-Philippe Toussaint, translated by Matthew Smith.
Dalkey, 156 pp., $12.95, November 2009, 978 1 56478 567 1
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La Vérité sur Marie 
by Jean-Philippe Toussaint.
Minuit, 204 pp., €14.50, September 2009, 978 2 7073 2088 9
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... For any serious French writer who has come of age during the last 30 years, one question imposes itself above all others: what do you do after the nouveau roman? Alain Robbe-Grillet, Claude Simon et compagnie redrew the map of what fiction might offer and aspire to, what its ground rules should be – so much so that some have found their legacy stifling ...

Is there hope for U?

Christopher Tayler: Tom McCarthy, 21 May 2015

Satin Island 
by Tom McCarthy.
Cape, 192 pp., £16.99, March 2015, 978 0 224 09019 3
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... existing literary world, in which editors were all too likely to pounce – as an editor does in Tom McCarthy’s novel Men in Space when a character slips talk of ‘the Western epistème’ into an art review – on instances of ‘pretentious bollocks’. After discovering Pierre Bourdieu, I even began to wonder if a taste for difficult, academically ...

Seeing Things Flat

Jenny Turner: Tom McCarthy’s ‘C’, 9 September 2010

by Tom McCarthy.
Cape, 310 pp., £16.99, August 2010, 978 0 224 09020 9
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... so often are in life. ‘One of the real structural understandings of great literature,’ Tom McCarthy told the Believer in 2008, ‘is that it’s an event … this seismic set of ripples that goes on through time, backward and forward.’ And so, in place of interpretation, the novel chooses instead to echo, repeat, re-enact its founding ...

The Smell of Frying Liver Drifting up from Downstairs

Daniel Soar: Not a Disaster Novel, 9 March 2006

by Tom McCarthy.
Metronome, 274 pp., £6, October 2005, 2 916262 00 8
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... with cellars and garrets and stairways and salons and endless particular clutter. The narrator of Tom McCarthy’s Remainder has been given £8,500,000 to keep quiet about an accident that has befallen him. Something – ‘Technology. Parts, bits. That’s it really: all I can divulge. Not much, I know’ – fell from the sky, broke most of his bones ...

Hmmmm, Stylish

Brian Dillon: Claire-Louise Bennett, 20 October 2016

by Claire-Louise Bennett.
Fitzcarraldo, 177 pp., £10.99, October 2015, 978 1 910695 09 8
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... in current fiction in Ireland, it’s less a return, in the manner called for by writers such as Tom McCarthy, and more an acknowledgment of the variety of experimental traditions on which young writers now draw. For sure, there are aspects of Joyce and Beckett to be heard in Bennett’s fretful lyricism. ‘The Gloves Are Off’ resembles other stories ...

Why am I so fucked up?

Christian Lorentzen: 37 Shades of Zadie, 8 November 2012

by Zadie Smith.
Hamish Hamilton, 295 pp., £18.99, August 2012, 978 0 241 14414 5
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... gentler James Wood? In ‘Two Paths for the Novel’, she looked at books by Joseph O’Neill and Tom McCarthy. Realism, it seemed, was on the run, and it turned out that novels in English could still be vehicles for avant-garde ideas. Why not try to be James Joyce? A bit wobbly and lopsided by design, NW is a hotchpotch in five parts. The first two ...

Her Body or the Sea

Ian Patterson: Ann Quin, 21 June 2018

The Unmapped Country: Stories and Fragments 
by Ann Quin.
And Other Stories, 192 pp., £10, January 2018, 978 1 911508 14 4
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... of realism which still dominate the English novel. Heralded by commendatory quotes from Tom McCarthy and Lee Rourke on the cover of this new gathering of previously uncollected or unpublished writings, Ann Quin now seems to be emerging as their best ancestor. She has all the biographical qualifications for the job of precursor, as well as being ...

Man-Eating Philosophers

Will Self: David Cronenberg, 18 June 2015

by David Cronenberg.
Fourth Estate, 288 pp., £18.99, October 2014, 978 0 00 729915 7
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... is not an ‘anti-style’ or the resistant Teflon-coated style of such Modernistes-nouveaux as Tom McCarthy and Michel Houellebecq; nor is it an attempt to demonstrate the semantic clumping we might expect once consciousness becomes fully technically mediated; rather it’s simply that transposition of style and methodology which is to be expected ...

Haddock blows his top

Christopher Tayler: Hergé’s Redemption, 7 June 2012

Hergé: The Man who Created Tintin 
by Pierre Assouline, translated by Charles Ruas.
Oxford, 276 pp., £9.99, October 2011, 978 0 19 983727 4
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Hergé, Son of Tintin 
by Benoît Peeters, translated by Tina Kover.
Johns Hopkins, 394 pp., £15.50, November 2011, 978 1 4214 0454 7
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... doesn’t have much of a personality beyond his narrative function as a goodie. And readers – as Tom McCarthy points out in Tintin and the Secret of Literature – have felt possessive towards the supporting cast from early on.* Captain Haddock, Tintin’s insult-hurling best friend, showed up in 1944 in a vengeful newspaper strip done ‘in the manner ...

Mailer’s Muddy Friend

Stephen Ambrose, 1 September 1988

Citizen Cohn 
by Nicholas von Hoffman.
Harrap, 483 pp., £12.95, August 1988, 0 245 54605 7
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... news reporter who had been appalled by the young Roy Cohn who wreaked such havoc as Senator Joe McCarthy’s aide, has fallen into Cohn’s web, become entranced by him, and tries to get away with presenting him as a lovable rogue. Von Hoffman makes no attempt at sustained analysis: he is content to present one interview after another, from Cohn’s friends ...

Anglo-Egyptian Attitudes

Marina Warner, 5 January 2017

... but ‘despite these clever rejiggings, Hergé’s sense of guilt keeps pulsing through’, as Tom McCarthy has written. Trying to sidestep openly racist or anti-Semitic feelings, Roberto Rastapopoulos, Marquis di Gorgonzola, is strongly coloured Italian and Greek, but these handles of the comic villain serve as a form of disguise, adopted by a ...

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