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The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim Hardcover – Deckle Edge, March 8, 2011


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Listen to an excerpt from The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim, read by the author, Jonathan Coe. [MP3]

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; Uncorrected Proof edition (March 8, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307594815
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307594815
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 1.3 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,137,372 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Coe (The Rotters' Club) broadly satirizes the disconnectedness of modern life with the story of Maxwell Sim, who has 70 Facebook friends but no one he can turn to when his wife and daughter leave him. After a trip to Australia to reconnect with his estranged father leads nowhere, Trevor, one of Max's few real friends, offers him an unusual gig: drive a Prius to the northernmost tip of the British Isles as part of a promotion for a startup eco-toothbrush company. Max takes a meandering route that allows him to visit his ex-wife, check in on his father's long-empty apartment, and pay a visit to the parents of his childhood friends. He also develops a romantic fixation on the voice coming from his GPS, which he names Emma. True connection is elusive: Max gains insight to his marriage, but only after using a fake identity to befriend his ex-wife online; haunting incidents from his teenage years come into focus belatedly, and the clarity he finally achieves comes at the prompting of a stranger. Coe has a lot of fun skewering the way technology and social media have become buttresses of society, but the antic plot and unfortunately precious conclusion water down the thoughtful points. (Mar.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Review

“[A] witty, sympathetic, and often painfully funny take on real loneliness in the virtual, socially networked world.” —Library Journal

“Coe’s voice, spoken through Max’s perspective, effuses the novel with an easy, understated and satirical sense of humor that is a joy to read . . . An excellent and entertaining take on how our countless methods of modern communication are making it harder to truly connect.” —Katie Stroh, The Daily Texan
 
“[A] beguiling combination of picaresque comic adventure, meditation on the idea of meta-narrative, and thought-provoking reflection on the place of social media in our lives.” —Heather Paulson, Booklist
 
“Funny, acerbic and, most of all, a novel that could not have been born at any other time than the present.”  —“What We’re Reading Now,” NPR
 
“A smart satire of materialism and modern life . . . Coe is a funny writer, and it's a testament to his skill with character that for all of his hero’s maddening faults and failures, Sim never wears out his welcome . . . Much like its targets, the book stubbornly delivers moments of humor and humanity.” —Chris Barton, Los Angeles Times
 
“Touching and admirable . . . Coe masterfully equips [his] vibrant and ingenious novels . . . with trap-like ironies that snap shut on his characters without bending them out of shape.” —Mark Martin, Barnes and Noble Review
 
“Beguiling . . . Coe has devised a powerful structure upon which to hang his exacting sense of humor and acute social observations, [and he] leaves the reader uncomfortably engaged with the consequences of Max’s terrible privacy, an unbearable loneliness that I would wager many of us share in this globalized world of greater and greater connectedness in which we are anything but connected.”  —Martha McPhee, San Francisco Chronicle

“Coe’s ninth novel cleverly plays with the reclusive-in-plain-sight notion and pokes gentle fun at our society’s love affair with modern gadgetry. It is a compelling, poignant read.” —Sara Vilkomerson, Entertainment Weekly
 
“On the one hand, [Coe’s] novels are immensely pleasurable in traditional ways: rich in characterization, emotionally resonant, thoughtfully plotted. On the other, he’s committed to unorthodox, even daring formal conceits, which energize his books by shaking them out of any possible complacency . . . Coe manages all that while also being very, very funny. There are many contemporary writers who can make you laugh, but Coe is one of the few whose comic set pieces do that and feel like miniature works of art. He has a genius for perfectly constructed jokes with hilarious payoffs.” —Ed Park, Bookforum
 
“In his sparkling and hugely enjoyable new book Jonathan Coe reinvents the picaresque novel for our time.” —Yorkshire Evening Post
 
“Clever, engaging, and spring-loaded with mysteries and surprises.” —Caroline McGinn, Time Out
 
“A brilliant depiction of 21st century life [and] a truly magnificent novel…Coe manages to make me howl with laughter and sob with tenderness within the same sentence.” —Patrick Neate, The Bookseller
 
“Classic Coe.” —Vogue
 
“[Coe] gives us witty and tender humanity, and reminds us that while the winners write the history, it is life’s losers who have the best stories.” —Simon Baker, The Spectator
 
“An amiably lunatic journey into the unknown…Coe’s satirical eye is as dependable as ever.” —Financial Times
 
“Most entertaining…A parable about the feeling many now have of not being in control of their own story.” —The Independent
 
“Cunningly plotted, extremely well-written and very, very funny.” —The Telegraph
 
“Exceptionally moving…[it tells] us something about loneliness, failure and the inability to cope that we haven’t quite read before.” —The Guardian
 
“Masterly…[Coe’s] eye for the details of contemporary life remains as sharp as ever.” Daily Mail
 
 

Customer Reviews

We may not get to see those famous ponies and Shelties Maxwell isn't really someone I'd want as a friend.
Dick Johnson
At times, the story is rather moving, but it is also sparked with Coe's great sense of humor and witty prose, so it never gets bogged down.
Wiggly
It is the stuff of paradigm shifts in science and technology as much as the foundation of great works of art.
Acorn

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A. Ross HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 6, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The titular character of this low-key character study is an Englishman in his late 40s who has been understandably mired in deep depression for the six months since his wife and teenage daughter left him. He's an epically milquetoast fellow who seems perpetually three steps slower than the modern world, and whose job (customer service clerk for a department store returns division) is a very telling marker of his absolute meaninglessness. He's the kind of guy who, when he does start sharing his interior life, does so with spectacular ineptitude.

The book opens promisingly enough, with him about to return from a visit to his father in Australia. Minor adventures ensue on the flights home, and he meets an interesting young woman who introduces him to the story of Donald Crowhurst. (He was an amateur sailor who disappeared while competing in a "round-the-world" race in 1969. Although he was judged to be the winner, later examination showed that his logbooks and records had been falsified, and that he was clearly going insane, and probably committed suicide.) Upon his return to England, Maxwell Sim is hired by an old friend to participate in a promotional road-trip to publicize a new line of toothbrushes. Thus, he embarks on his own solo journey toward madness, with the voices in his head coming from his on-board navigation system.

The terrible privacy of the title is essentially loneliness, and Coe appears to be trying to criticize the new modes of social networking and communication (Facebook, texting, etc.) that have grown ubiquitous in the last ten years but have not necessarily improved our ability to truly connect as humans.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Dick Johnson VINE VOICE on March 28, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
It's pretty unusual to read a coming-of-age novel about a 48 year old man. But, that seems to be what Coe has given us. We travel with Maxwell from London to the Shetland Islands. Or, that was the plan. We may not get to see those famous ponies and Shelties

Maxwell isn't really someone I'd want as a friend. He seems to be more like someone who needs to be claimed from a shelter - for a pet. While that sounds cruel, it isn't. He just needs a keeper; or, perhaps, a trainer.

Coe writes in a very low key manner that just kind of gets us to each stage of the book in its own good time. We aren't rushed or challenged by the book, but sit in the back seat while Maxwell follows his "made up as he went" agenda.

If the Product Description (above) piques your interest, and you like to chuckle at the foibles and inadequacies of others (this is fiction), then give this a try. You don't have to drive too many miles each day and can spend your nights in decent surroundings. You don't even need to bring a toothbrush.

I'm going to check out some of Jonathan Coe's other books.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By K. Sullivan VINE VOICE on February 2, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
In February of 2009, at the age of 48, Maxwell Sim realizes he is utterly alone. His wife and daughter left him six months before. His relationship with his father is distant and aloof. Neither seems capable of establishing any real connection with the other. His mother died years ago; she was younger than he is now. Upon reflection, it seems he has not bothered to maintain any real friendships. He has been off from work since his wife left, suffering chronic depression. Through an old acquaintance, he is offered a temporary marketing position with a toothbrush company. His assignment is to travel alone by car to the Shetland Islands to sell the company's newest product. He takes the opportunity to attempt to reconnect with some people from his past. "The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim" is divided into the stages of his trip across Britain.

Max's journey is a dark but compelling one. It's a mistake to assume that he's the representative "everyman" exploring isolation in the digital age. His story is uniquely his own (even if there are broader implications for everyone). The average individual is almost assuredly better equipped to face loneliness than is the protagonist. Max's psyche is fractured and tormented. He lacks any self-determined identity and plunges headlong into despair and toward madness. His choices are rarely rational. His interpersonal interactions are labored and fraught with difficulty and misunderstanding. His journey is absolutely harrowing. Will he find a meaningful connection? Will he discover something of himself? Or will he lose himself forever... lost in a sea of humanity?

Coe's storytelling is quite engaging and entertaining. The narration, from Max's point of view, is easygoing and the prose fluid.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Acorn on January 5, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Maxwell Sim is forty-eight, an only child and a lonely man. His mother died years ago, his introspective and distant father went off to Australia, and six months ago his wife Caroline and daughter Lucy upped and left. Since Catherine's departure he has been severely depressed and unable to work. When things look bleakest, an old friend offers Maxwell an opportunity at a toothbrush manufacturing company. All he has to do is drive to the Shetland Islands, do some filming and get publicity for a new line of products. It should be the start of a recovery, but for Maxwell Sim it is the beginning of a descent into a private purgatory.

Caroline bought Maxwell a ticket to Australia so that he could attempt some reconciliation with his father. It didn't go well, but the sight of a Chinese woman and her daughter in a restaurant, and the intimacy of their company, inspires him. He returns to England and on the way meets a young woman named Poppy who is kind, even if he doesn't realise that at the time.

Through Poppy, Maxwell becomes familiar with the story of Donald Crowhurst, a man who tried to fake a round-the-world sailing trip, went mad, then disappeared at sea. As Maxwell heads off for the Shetlands, he increasingly sees his trip as a reflection of, and then indistinguishable from, the voyage of Crowhurst.

On his journey he visits Caroline, now more attractive and happy in her new life. He has an unsatisfactory dinner with Lucy, collects a folder of poems and a short story from his father's flat near Birmingham and looks up an old school friend in Edinburgh.
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More About the Author

Jonathan Coe is the author of The Winshaw Legacy and nine other novels. His many prizes include the Everyman Wodehouse Prize and the Samuel Johnson Prize.

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