Here’s a link to my review at Mostly Fiction of The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim by Jonathan Coe. I came across Coe’s name in a collection of short stories, and so I was interested to try a novel. I really liked this book but was disappointed in the ending, and I suspect I’m not the only one who feels this way. But I liked the novel enough to try another Coe at some point. Suggestions welcome.
The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim is a very modern novel, and by that I mean that it focuses on the meaning of relationships in the internet age. The novel’s protagonist, lonely, under-employed Max doesn’t really have a clue about relationships, and at one point he even creates a fictional internet identity in order to maintain a covert correspondence with his ex-wife. This is a novel that covers a number of big issues extremely well while still maintaining a lightly humorous tone. Those issues include relationships, loneliness, the changing face of Britain, privacy in the internet age, and outsourcing. As Max embarks on a trip to the Hebrides to promote toothbrushes, he finds himself questioning some key events from his past, and author Coe very cleverly weaves in the true story of Donald Crowhurst. In isolation, Max begins to compare his road trip with Crowhurst’s fictional voyage around the world.
I’m not going to write a full review, but I am including one of my favourite quotes:
I was now driving past the old Longbridge factory. Or rather, I was driving now past the gaping hole in the landscape where the old Longbridge factory used to be. It was a weird experience: when you revisit the landscapes of your past, you expect to see maybe a few cosmetic changes, the odd new building here or there, the occasional lick of paint, but this was something else; an entire complex of factory buildings which used to dominate the whole neighbourhood, stretching over many square miles, throbbing with the noise of working machinery, alive with the figures of thousands of working men and women entering and leaving the buildings–all gone. Flattened, obliterated. Meanwhile, a big billboard erected in the midst of these swatches of urban emptiness informed us that, before too long, a phoenix would be rising from the ashes : a “major new development” of “exclusive residential units” and “retail outlets,” a utopian community where the only things people ever have to concern themselves with were eating, sleeping and shopping; there was no need to work anymore, apparently, none of that tiresome stuff about clocking in at factory gates in order to do anything as vulgar as making things. Had we all lost our wits in the last few years? Had we forgotten that prosperity has to be based on something solid and tangible? Even to someone like me, who had done nothing more than skim the papers and the news Web sites over the last couple of weeks, it was pretty obvious we were getting it badly wrong, that knocking down factories to put up shops wasn’t turning out to be such a great idea, that it wasn’t sensible to build an entire society on foundations of air.
Special thanks to Tom for pointing me in the direction of this entertaining book.