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The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Simby Jonathan Coe
Synopses & Reviews
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: hes 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 hes 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 its a severe lack of self-knowledge thats 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.
"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.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
Maxwell Sim can’t make a meaningful connection. His absent father is preoccupied with poetry; he maintains an e-mail correspondence with his estranged wife under a false identity; his daughter prefers her BlackBerry to his conversation; and his best friend won’t return his calls. He has seventy friends on Facebook, but nobody to talk to.
Max tries to stir himself out of this rut by quitting his job to accept a strange business proposition: to drive a Prius full of toothbrushes from London to the remote Shetland Islands in a misguided promotional campaign for a dental-hygiene company. Instead, he makes a series of awkward, cruelly enlightening visits to figures from his past, falling in love with the soothing voice of his GPS system (“Emma”) en route. Eventually he comes to wonder if perhaps it’s his utter lack of self-knowledge that’s hampering his ability to form actual relationships.
Jonathan Coe outdoes himself with this humane satire and modern-day picaresque, a gently comic and rollickingly entertaining story about personal attachments in the digital welter of instant communication.
About the Author
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.
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