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The Terrible Privacy Of Maxwell Sim [Hardcover]

Jonathan Coe
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (75 customer reviews)

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Book Description

27 May 2010

Maxwell Sim seems to have hit rock bottom. Estranged from his father, newly divorced, unable to communicate with his only daughter, he realizes that while he may have seventy-four friends on Facebook, there is nobody in the world with whom he can actually share his problems.

Then a business proposition comes his way - a strange exercise in corporate PR that will require him to spend a week driving from London to a remote retail outlet on the Shetland Isles. Setting out with an open mind, good intentions and a friendly voice on his SatNav for company, Maxwell finds that this journey soon takes a more serious turn, and carries him not only to the furthest point of the United Kingdom, but into some of the deepest and darkest corners of his own past.

In his sparkling and hugely enjoyable new book Jonathan Coe reinvents the picaresque novel for our time.



Product details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Viking (27 May 2010)
  • ISBN-10: 0670917389
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670917389
  • Product Dimensions: 23.2 x 15.4 x 3.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (75 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 792,052 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jonathan Coe was born in Birmingham in 1961. His novels include The Rotters' Club, The Accidental Woman, A Touch of Love, The Dwarves of Death and What a Carve Up!, which won the 1995 John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and the French Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger. His latest novel is The Rain Before it Falls (Penguin, 2007).

The House of Sleep won the Writers' Guild Best Fiction Award for 1997.

Product Description

Review

It takes real panache to write with such comedic ease; his pacing throughout is superb and delivers realististic dialogue, and, hence believable charcters... Coe's sympathy for his creation is contagious (Robert Epstein Indpendent on Sunday )

Max is silly but he makes him more than a figure of ridicule. Instead, he understands him, shows us what it is to be ineloquent in company, to have bland tastes and a childlike need fot sameness, to not be very good at things. Through that understanding he gives us witty and tender humanity, and reminds us that while winners write the history, it is life's losers, such as Max, who have the best stories (Simon Baker Spectator )

Coe takes a risk in using the nerdish Sim as principal spokesman, but he carries it off by empathy, comedy and a venriloquist's ear for idiom. The conclusion to this fine novel, an ending in which Jonathan Coe himself plays a speaking part, is witty, unexpected and curiously unsettling

(Pamela Norris Literary Review )

The Terrible Privacy is more intimate than Coe's previous novels. Coe may blackly satirise an atomised 21st-century Britain pockmarked by Travelodges and in thrall to the empty caress of instant messaging but this geographical and cultural hinterland is really a physical correlative for Sim's existential crisis (Claire Allfree Metro )

cunningly plotted, extremely well-written and very, very funny (Mark Sanderson Daily Telegraph )

An engaging novel (Lianne Kolirin The Express )

Coe's book is as funny and as well written as you'd expect: even the banality of Maxwell's mind is rendered deadpan, with wonderful lightness. It is archly and artfully structured, too; though I can't, without spoiling a plot that delivers revelations and switch backs in careful sequence, go deeply into how (Sam Leith Prospect Magazine )

Coe has always been a virtuoso of voice. He is the master of the kind of distinctively English comedy that has its roots in Fielding and Sterne (Jonathan Derbyshire New Statesman )

Funny and touching (Grazia )

A highly engaging portrait of both a man and a society that have lost their way (Michael Arditti Daily Mail )

The plot is everything Max is not: clever, engaging, and spring-loaded with mysteries and surprises (Caroline McGinn Time Out London )

exceptionally moving...[managing] to tell us something about loneliness, failure and the inability to cope that we haven't quite read before (Alex Clark The Guardian )

Very funny (RED )

About the Author

Jonathan Coe was born in Birmingham in 1961. He has written eight previous novels, most recently The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim (2010), all of which are available in Penguin. His biography of the novelist B. S. Johnson, Like a Fiery Elephant, won the 2005 Samuel Johnson Prize for best non-fiction book of the year. He lives in London with his wife and two children.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Communication Breakdown 16 Aug 2010
By M. Stevens VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover
This was heading for a four star review but..... read on.

The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim explores many contemporary themes, among them our ability to not actually communicate properly, in a world where communication is supposedly easy, the effects of a marriage breakdown and the loneliness this brings and how one town in the UK looks very much like any other. However, form the outset, Max is not an entirely likeable character, and whilst I recognise many of the themes explored, felt it difficult to empathize with him.

The events early in the book lead him to making a journey to the Shetland Islands in order to deliver on his new employers promise of "We go further"; on the way, Max meets characters from his life, and at each stage learns something new about himself, or his family which causes him to reflect on why he is where and what he is.

The book is readable, and by no means poor, but I did not think in the same league as Coe's earlier novels, particularly What a Carve Up!and The Rotters' Club. Pages seemed to turn very quickly, as you wondered what would happen next on his journey, with his new-found friend, the Sat-Nav in his car.

However, there was just "something" missing...and I cannot put my finger on what. Maybe it was my inability to empathize, or just my lack of understanding of Max's view on life in general.

Now, back to my initial line. As I said, the book was not "bad" and was heading for four stars, but the ending..... oh my word the ending. I am not one to spoil it for anyone, but yes Denise (another reviewer here) I too felt cheated, as having read the best part of 350 pages, I thought as a reader, I deserved more than that! Too "clever" for anyone, me thinks!
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Diary of a Somebody 15 Jun 2010
By Denise4891 TOP 100 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback
Maxwell Sim is a classic `everyman', someone who we can all identify with to some degree. He's slightly befuddled by modern life, technology and dating etiquette (he has to ask his teenage daughter what it means when a colleague ends her text message with an `x`) and has managed to become estranged from his family and most of his friends.

Following the departure of his wife and daughter and six months off work with depression, he eventually resigns from his uninspiring job in After-Sales Customer Liaison (aka Returns) for a department store, to take up a seemingly crazy job offer which involves selling eco-friendly toothbrushes in one of the most remote locations in Britain. His time on the road gives Max the opportunity to catch up with old friends and drag a few skeletons out of the closet, but, above all, he gets to spend some time alone (his terrible privacy) to reflect on the hand life has dealt him. I say "alone" ... he does become a bit too emotionally-dependent on his SatNav, even giving `her' a name and seeking her advice on more than just the quickest route to take and how to avoid traffic jams.

Jonathan Coe has a wonderful way of making mundane events seem humorous and slightly bizarre, and he has a brilliant ear for surreal dialogue (a great example being the hilarious three-way conversation Max has with the parents of an old school friend). Max is an unreliable but very endearing narrator, and his blundering attempts to make friends and his lack of insight into how others perceive him are painful to witness at times (but also very funny).
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Running on empty 5 Oct 2011
By Adam VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback
I'm taking precious moments from my life to write a review that in all likelihood no-one will really read and appreciate. Am I doing it to enhance my identity in a world that increasingly anonymises you and substitutes real human contact with keyboards and internet profiles? Or is it in effect a minor piece of vanity publishing?
This is pseudo dilemma that would appeal to the protagonist of this tale, the ever bewildered and alienated Maxwell Sim. His life has disintegrated in true wet cardboard style, leaving a soggy, easily torn fabric for a soul, prey to inappropriate yearnings for attachment, looking for love in all the wrong places.
All but ignored by a cold and distant father, bereft of a mother, on the wrong end of his own family's breakdown, Maxwell is in an airport in Sydney, having just endured another failed attempt to communicate with his father. He spies a mother and child in what seems real and warm loving relationship, wrapped up in each other and playing cards. This is the twitch on the thread that starts him on a forlorn journey back to England and then up to the wilds of Scotland on a doomed sales venture. Along the way he will meet a cast of characters, all of which he misunderstands, tries for an inappropriate connection, or romance, most of the time all of the above. He learns of the story of Donald Crowhurst, the tragic figure who went fatally mad trying to sail round the world, and then fabricate its completion, and then to his horror, Sim finds his life and Crowhurst's becoming one...
There is much that I enjoyed with this book.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars I rode the waves but was left all at sea
I didn't hate or dislike this book.. well not most of the time anyway... I rode the waves of interest and disappointment... liking and disliking... Read more
Published 2 days ago by pathfinder
3.0 out of 5 stars Readable but ultimately disappointing
The issues that this novel tackles in terms of being cut off from intimate relations and the fakery that we employ to make ourselves meet others' expectations are intriguing. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Fish pie
5.0 out of 5 stars Never ask an author where he gets his ideas from!
'Hapless' is the only way to describe the novel's protagonist, Maxwell Sim - named as in SIM card (but also, in a giveaway to the meta-fictional ending, a reference to the virtual... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Anne Horton-Smith
4.0 out of 5 stars Unusual and entertaining novel
Jonathan Coe is a reliable author - his writing is always enjoyable and engaging to read, with a nice blend of humour and pathos. Read more
Published 2 months ago by BookWorm
4.0 out of 5 stars An engaging story with a twist
Beautifully written story with interesting characters. I loved the references to places in and around Birmingham. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Mr P Hanna
4.0 out of 5 stars Unpredictable and weird
What about this novel? Surely it captures you, the story is so bizarre as not to give the slightest reference on how it will evolve, which of course increases the reader's... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Anakina
4.0 out of 5 stars To travel hopefully is better than to arrive
Written with a charming circularity, the end is the beginning and the beginning is the end. Unusually honestly, the book is stylish rounded off with a 'selfie' by J Coe. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Mrs. Katharine Kirby
1.0 out of 5 stars Motorway journeys are boring
I read the Rotter's Club and laughed out loud. I would recommend that one. And so I was eager and curious to read this. Read more
Published 5 months ago by MzBookMuncher
5.0 out of 5 stars worth picking up in the charity shop
The writing flowed off the page. there are some neat plot tie ins (I particularly enjoyed Philip's answer phone message). The ending is different, but it had to end somehow.
Published 6 months ago by J. C. Shaw
3.0 out of 5 stars Huh?
There are hundreds of reviews. Far more are negative than I can recall seeing. The book feels like a dream - a bit like Ishiguro's 'The Unconsoled' - and the frustration of never... Read more
Published 9 months ago by D. SWATMAN
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What did you think of the ending? (warning - spoiler below) 1 6 Dec 2010
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