The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim

The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim

Book - 2011 | 1st American ed.
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Maxwell Sim can't seem to make a single meaningful connection. His absent father was always more interested in poetry; he maintains an e-mail correspondence with his estranged wife, though under a false identity; his incomprehensible teenage daughter prefers her BlackBerry to his conversation; and his best friend since childhood is refusing to return his calls. He has seventy-four friends on Facebook, but nobody to talk to.

In an attempt to stir himself out of this horrible rut, Max quits his job as a customer liaison at the local department store and accepts a strange business proposition that falls in his lap by chance: he's hired to drive a Prius full of toothbrushes to the remote Shetland Islands, part of a misguided promotional campaign for a dental-hygiene company intent on illustrating the slogan "We Reach Furthest."

But Max's trip doesn't go as planned, as he's unable to resist making a series of impromptu visits to important figures from his past who live en route. After a string of cruelly enlightening and intensely awkward misadventures, he finds himself falling in love with the soothing voice of his GPS system ("Emma") and obsessively identifying with a sailor who perpetrated a notorious hoax and subsequently lost his mind. Eventually Max begins to wonder if perhaps it's a severe lack of self-knowledge that's hampering his ability to form actual relationships.

A humane satire and modern-day picaresque, The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim is a gently comic and rollickingly entertaining novel about the paradoxical difficulties of making genuine attachments in a world of advanced communications technology and rampant social networking.
Publisher: New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2011.
Edition: 1st American ed.
ISBN: 9780307594815
Branch Call Number: Fic
Characteristics: 314 p. ; 25 cm.


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Feb 12, 2018

Loved this book. Coe's writing style is very readable. The characters and the intertwining stories are marvelous! After reading two books, he's one of my favorite authors now.

Nov 13, 2017

After having read "Number 11" I have become a huge fan of Jonathan Coe, and this book is as good if not better. Mr. Coe has the unique ability to create interesting, quirky yet human characters who give us the opportunity to reflect through the journeys he sends them on. He throws in plot twists, humor, and finally a curve ball at the end we didn't see coming. When finished I realized it reminded me of a favorite film, "Stranger than Fiction". I just started "The Rotter's Club" and will review that as well though I'm sure its a great story like everything he writes. Highly recommended.

Oct 16, 2014

I loved the stories within the story and the parallels between the failed sailor's voyage and the main character's life. A well written and clever book.

mayfairlady Nov 25, 2012

interesting ending

ManUtdFan Feb 03, 2012

This book got panned by some of the critics but they were off the mark. A great read and a clever concept. Coe's problem is that everything he ever writes will be compared to the genius of "The Rotters Club" and "Closed Circle".

BPLNextBestAdults Jan 05, 2012

The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim by Jonathan Coe deals with a modern paradox: as Max himself put it we are at "…..a time when people seemed to be losing the ability to connect with one another, even as technology created more and more ways in which it ought to be possible".

Max is a 48 year-old man, a not too-successful salesman, with lots of friends on Facebook, who, in reality, is completely alone. His mother died while he was quite young; his father to whom he was not close left for Australia shortly after; his wife left him, and he has lost touch with most of his friends. Any of his attempts to form an alliance with another human being fail. On the flight home from Australia where he tried to bridge the gap with his father, he tries to engage his seat mate in conversation only to be told by the flight attendant that the man has suffered a heart attack and died.

His only remaining friend, Trevor, offers him the opportunity to make some money by taking a load of sample toothbrushes to the northernmost point in Scotland as a promotional gimmick. Max sets out intending to visit his estranged wife and daughter and some of the people from his past on the way. Flashbacks describe some of the past incidents that lead to his alienation. Failing to form relationships with real people, in desperation, Maxwell seems to fall in love with the voice on the SatNav, his only constant companion.

The book is not as glum as it seems. Jonathan Coe has a keen sense of humour and many of the passages are quite funny. The ending is also not what one would expect. With its many threads and very contemporary issues, I feel this book would be particularly good for discussion by a book club.

Sep 15, 2011

I found the overall concept of this book intriguing, and the title funny enough to pick up. However, I was quite disappointed. It has its moments of being witty but a lot of the parts were a bit cumbersome to drudge through, and the ending was completely unsatisfying. Worst ending I've encountered recently! What you see is definitely not what you get. Sadly.

gwsuperfan May 11, 2011

The book started a little bit slowly, but became a page-turner once it got going. Witty and a tad surreal. Fans of British humour will definitely enjoy this book.

debwalker Mar 31, 2011

"Coe’s satire pierces less than his compassion, and Sim, for all his shortcomings, increasingly gains our sympathy, if not our affection. By the novel’s end, Sim has discovered that there is more of his father – and his father’s hidden self – in him than he ever dared acknowledge before. Embracing that knowledge, and acting on it, as he is enabled (a little too neatly) to do, will be what saves him, Coe suggests. Then, in the final chapter, he throws us a metafictional curveball in the form of authorial intervention that will leave your jaw hanging. I leave it to you to determine whether it’s with appreciation or disbelief."

Reviewed by Kathleen Byrne in the Globe & Mail March 28, 2011


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