“At the height of his powers” – The Making of Incarnation by Tom McCarthy

IMG_2022-9-16-111918Tom McCarthy is a novelist of this century, looking forward, not back.

He has always made the the case for the philosophical novel and sometimes the anti-novel, arguably it most philosophical form. His world is too complex for the realism of the last centuries, Fielding, Balzac, and Flaubert.

His new novel The Making of Incarnation is  brimful of ideas. It should be no surprise that McCarthy is most comfortable discussing William Gaddis or Alain Robbe-Grillet. He is one of our first generation of novelists who is equally European and Transatlantic in his novelistic views. An easy novel is not what McCarthy gives us. In his own choice or reading, he urges us tor read Sterne, Kafka, and Ben Marcus. In his writing why should he change now?

The plot centres on current technology, how to capture light tracks that capture a worker’s movements. There is a missing box of key information, centred on Box 808.

Where Remainder was driven with the inevitability of the Freudian death drive or Greek Tragedy, The Making of Incarnation is more relaxed and roomier in its development. There are sections of writing that have a beauty that hasn’t been evident in McCarthy’s work before. It is all the more surprising that this aesthetic is linked to the world of work, the new work where ideas drive progress:

“Most wind tunnels have two central rooms; one for synchronising the activities of the various aerodynamic subsystems, the other for model-handling. Here at Nederlans Wind NV … these functions are amalgamated in a single space, which, consequently has assumed almost cathedral-like proportions. Under a giant halo light that seems to hover, flat and round as a benevolent spaceship, are two rows of pews, all white, with screens interpolated down their lengths at regular intervals like prayer books.”

Here work is the new religion and McCarthy writes at the height of his powers, interweaving the new future with the recent past.

The pursuit of Box 808 and the teeming life of new knowledge reminded me of the Thomas Pynchon of The Crying of Lot 49 and Bleeding Edge. But any influences are turned into the McCarthyan world that has developed into new areas of technology and representation.

Any Cop?: Tom McCarthy spent his early years nearer the art world than that of fiction, although his art organisation, the International Necronautical Society was itself fictional. There is a visual splendour in this new novel, matched by a strong plot. With The Making of Incarnation McCarthy adds to his reputation as one of our most knowledgeable and perceptive novelists.

Richard Clegg

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