A startling novel about modern technology and the loneliest number
The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim
by Jonathan Coe
$26.95 List Price
Painting a word-picture of a woman at a restaurant, the titular narrator of British author Jonathan Coe's new novel, The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim, writes, "She had long black hair, slightly wild and unkempt. A thin face, with prominent cheekbones." Prominent cheekbones? Just as the cliché meter is warming up, Max adds a parenthetical: "(Sorry, I am just not very good at describing people.)" This self-deprecation is enough to win us over, and it lets Max off the hook to unleash a few more lines of workmanlike, tentative details . . . prompting another aside: "(I am not very good at describing clothes either—are you looking forward to the next three hundred pages?)"
Max is that tricky creation: a nonwriter, with zero interest in books, who is writing his own story. (Told that he might broaden his horizons with one of the Rabbit books, he buys Watership Down.) For the author, it's a way of writing about writing without getting too inside-baseball. Max's allergy to literature might explain his two failed relationships: with Caroline, now his ex-wife, a budding fiction writer who lately has "found a good writers' group to attend every Tuesday evening in Kendal"; and with his widowed father, an abstruse poet who moved from England to Australia two decades ago.
Antibookish Max's charming interruptions also foreshadow what will be the MO of this enjoyable and generous novel, at once a surprising love story and a meditation on the myth of modern connectivity. (Yes, Facebook is mentioned.) Max is a self-described "After-Sales Customer Liaison Officer for a department