Saturday, 19 November 2011

A Year in Books 2011 - The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim


Jonathan Coe has written some great books, The Rotters Club got the bbc adaptation treatment, Oh What a Carve up combined social commentary with Carry on and the House of Sleep is one of those hidden gems.


After the last novel was launched by the author announcing it was "joke free" (The Rain Before it Falls is still a great piece of story telling) , The Terrible Privacy returns to the territory of character based humour.

Maxwell Sim is not having a good time of it at all. His wife has left him taking his daughter with her, he is off work with stress,he's been mugged and he is struggling to come to terms with the distant and cold relationship he has with his father.

There is light on the horizon, a chance encounter with a younger woman, and the offer of another well paid job.

The job in question is working on a promotional campaign for a radical new tooth brush that involves driving to northernest part of the UK, filming a diary on route. Maxwell takes the opportunity to call in on his ex wife , his father's old flat, the parents of his best friend and finally his best friend's sister, who has always carried a torch for him.

On route Maxwell gets to understand his past and key relationships through 3 "stories within stories"  something his wife has written for her creative writing class, something his best friend's sister has written as part of her psychology degree and finally something his father wrote as a break from the past just before emigrating to Australia. Although at times a bit contrived, this is one of the best things about the novel, the way Coe uses different voices to give Maxwell ,and through him us, gradual insights and understanding, until a sense of self awareness and desire to change emerges.

Without these elements the book strays a tad too close to the territory of The Rise and fall of Reggie Perrin as Maxwell's hopes and dreams, as well as his sanity, start to slowly unravel. Although in Maxwell's case there is no dream secretary just a growing relationship with the car sat nav.

The empathy we cant help but feel for Maxwell more than the humour stops the whole thing spiralling into a sense of despair, both for Maxwell and what it says about living in modern Britain.

It is difficult to sum up what I feel about the book as for 300+pages it was a great piece of writing and then I got to the last 6 pages which you could say are a brave experimentation with character or form , or you could see it as one of the worst endings ever. Two weeks later and I'm still pissed off about it , partly because what had gone before was so good

If you want to take the risk then you can buy The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim here. If you have read it , let me know what you thought of the ending. 

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