Tom McCarthy has done it again. His last novel was a hum-dinger of experimental fiction focusing on war and the letter “C” in fact, that was the title, “C”. I think McCarthy’s first novel, Remainder, was his best so far.
This time the protagonist’s name is “U” – he is a “corporate anthropologist” working on a Great Report – an ultimate report on our society. (This reminded me of Pattern Recognition by William Gibson.) He gets stuck in an airport and watches signs and people and everything but is struck by what we call “information overload,” the data is everywhere and he is unable to isolate what he wants. He watches the news story about an oil spill, he considers Starbucks, the effects of being observed, Starbucks and coffee shops, reality vs illusion or masks (lots of them). He also talks to a few people about similar things or events.
Basically he thinks and takes notes about stuff and the shifting signs and other semiotic and cultural signifiers in our own culture. That’s what the book is – notes about his thoughts. There is no real plot or even order to some of the thoughts although they are carefully numbered. It’s a very strange little book but kind of fun in places after I got the hang of it, but it’s also frequently boring.