The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim by Jonathan Coe

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Synopsis

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.


From the Hardcover edition.
 

About Jonathan Coe

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Jonathan Coe's awards include the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, the Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger, the Prix Médicis Étranger, and, for The Rotters' Club, the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize. He lives in London with his wife and their two daughters. Visit the author's website: www.jonathancoewriter.com.
 
Published March 8, 2011 by Vintage. 402 pages
Genres: Humor & Entertainment, Mystery, Thriller & Suspense, Literature & Fiction. Fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim

Kirkus Reviews

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A school essay written by a childhood friend’s sister, and a confessional memoir penned by Max’s absentee father, a would-be poet living in Australia (whence Max returns from a visit at the novel’s outset), complete the array of judgmental perspectives on our antihero’s many, many failings.

Apr 05 2011 | Read Full Review of The Terrible Privacy of Maxwe...

The New York Times

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His wife, a novice writer, once attempted to make him more multihued by suggesting he read “one of the Rabbit books,” and Max came home not with an Updike novel but with “Watership Down.” His own father, a homosexual poet, regards him as a nuisance if not a blight (Max is the accidental artifact ...

Apr 08 2011 | Read Full Review of The Terrible Privacy of Maxwe...

The Guardian

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Maxwell Sim's satnav can only function because of the superabundance of satellites in the sky monitoring our every move.

May 09 2010 | Read Full Review of The Terrible Privacy of Maxwe...

The Guardian

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Coe nimbly deploys the real tragedy of Crowhurst's story – that he wasn't even able to succeed at fakery, descending into madness and eventual suicide – as a metaphor for Max's life.

May 22 2010 | Read Full Review of The Terrible Privacy of Maxwe...

NPR

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Tea Obreht makes her sparkling debut with the folkloric Tiger's Wife, and another new author, Cara Hoffman, holds her own with the creepy but elegant So Much Pretty. A Jay-Z biography falls short, but Jonathan Coe's humorous novel about Internet loneliness is an acerbic glimpse of modern times.

Mar 15 2011 | Read Full Review of The Terrible Privacy of Maxwe...

Book Reporter

Hoping to restore Max's life to something resembling normalcy, a friend recruits him for a position with a company that manufactures eco-friendly toothbrushes (one of them made of wood, with bristles of boar's hair).

Apr 18 2011 | Read Full Review of The Terrible Privacy of Maxwe...

The Washington Times

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But for Max, the central character of Jonathan Coe’s novel “The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim,” privacy is rather harrowing.

May 06 2011 | Read Full Review of The Terrible Privacy of Maxwe...

Entertainment Weekly

The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim, 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 (Max develops an unhealthy relationship with the woman's voice on his car's GPS).

Mar 02 2011 | Read Full Review of The Terrible Privacy of Maxwe...

Los Angeles Times

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Maxwell Sim, the title character and dominant voice in the ninth novel from British writer Jonathan Coe, is not someone who could be considered a good traveling companion.

Mar 17 2011 | Read Full Review of The Terrible Privacy of Maxwe...

The Telegraph

The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim by Jonathan Coe It begins with a newspaper cutting that tells how Maxwell Sim was discovered unconscious in a car surrounded by toothbrushes.

Jul 24 2010 | Read Full Review of The Terrible Privacy of Maxwe...

The Telegraph

The journey provides Max – and Jonathan Coe – with an opportunity to comment on the state of the nation.

May 30 2010 | Read Full Review of The Terrible Privacy of Maxwe...

San Francisco Chronicle

At the beginning of Jonathan Coe's beguiling new novel, "The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim," Max, in Australia visiting his estranged father, observes a Chinese woman and her young daughter at a restaurant.

Mar 13 2011 | Read Full Review of The Terrible Privacy of Maxwe...

Review (Barnes & Noble)

The dominant flavor of a Jonathan Coe novel typically blends comic social commentary with a sentimental longing for a Britain that existed before Margaret Thatcher's rise to power.

Mar 15 2011 | Read Full Review of The Terrible Privacy of Maxwe...

The New Yorker

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Apr 11 2011 | Read Full Review of The Terrible Privacy of Maxwe...

The New Zealand Herald

A senior Grey Power official's complaints about immigration have been labelled uninformed, but the group's central Auckland president says they reflect the feeling of… Guy defends trip: 'I can't make it rain' Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy has defended his decision to stay with a trade ...

Aug 15 2010 | Read Full Review of The Terrible Privacy of Maxwe...

Metro

Coe tests his readers’ patience over just what sort of novel we are reading (an interjection by the novelist himself pointlessly attempts to upend it completely) but Sim’s deliberately inarticulate journey towards self-acceptance is quietly moving.

Jun 02 2010 | Read Full Review of The Terrible Privacy of Maxwe...

Socialist Review

I won't give the ending away, except to say that Maxwell's fate (will he, won't he find true happiness of the sort he detects in the Chinese woman's relationship with her daughter?) has something to do with on-screen virtual reality.

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