An ambitious, epochal second novel from the author of Remainder (2007).
When Serge is born, at the beginning of the last century, the attending physician arrives at the family home bearing a cartload of zinc, selenium and copper wire—materials Serge’s father will use to construct his own telegraph station. Communication, connection and distance: These are the underlying subjects of McCarthy’s narrative, but he weaves these threads together with such magnificent artistry that the reader is aware of these tropes only at a not-quite-conscious level. The first two parts of Serge’s story—which spans his childhood and his experience as a pilot in the Great War—are rendered as a fairy tale, but a thoroughly naturalistic, insistently modern one. The effect is mesmerizing, almost bewitching. Then, it’s as if McCarthy stops writing, leaving the rest of the novel to a lesser author—one familiar with the plot, but with no capacity for subtlety. Suddenly, Serge is surrounded by characters who seem to have wandered in from a Dan Brown novel—they are not people, but cartoonish representations of people, and they speak in learned, portentous paragraphs. The novel is redeemed by the ending—a lengthy passage in which the recurrent themes of Serge’s life coalesce in a truly astonishing hallucination.
Flawed but fascinating.