Life is more mystery than misery

(or at least, that's what I like to think)

The terrible privacy of Maxwell Sim

Jonathan Coe offers a really interesting combination of humor, sadness and intrigue in this “English road trip novel” in which Maxwell Sim’s memories and apparently conventional events are tacked to each other to reveal gradually the truth of this long-suffering character. Max’s character is forced by the events of his journey from London to Aberdeen to dig in his memories and rebuilt them by adding the little missing pieces that he constantly finds in order to understand the truth of his past, his family and ultimately about himself. And half of the beauty of it is that he does so as the reader does too, so it establishes a sort of intimacy – a recurrent theme in the novel-between the character and the reader, as well of a sense of mystery that keeps the reader turning the page.  On the other hand, the author delights us by creating an interesting parallelism between the main character’s path and Donald Crowhurst (1932–1969): a British amateur sailor who entered the Sunday Times Golden Globe Racein hopes of winning a cash prize to aid his failing business, but found himself instead in difficulty early in the voyage, and secretly abandoned the race while reporting false positions, in an attempt to appear to complete a circumnavigation without actually circling the world; but unfortunately ended up with his suicide after months of insanity alone in the sea. This story adds a sense of thrill for the reader as it becomes clear from the last second half of the second act and the third one that Sim could easily be facing a similar path as well, which makes a motive to keep reading the adventures of this, on the other hand, quite plane and apparently dull and suffering character.

As for the narrative structure, Coe divides the story in five parts, in which the first four include a chapter named after each of the four elements: water, earth, fire and air, telling a story related in one way or another to that subject. The only thing that may have not convinced me about the narrative structure is the existence of the last chapter, named √-1 included in the fifth part, “Fairlight beach”, in which the character is told by the writer that he doesn’t really exist, blending a rare mix of reality vs. fiction that drags the reader out of the story and can result rather annoying to finish a fiction novel from my point of view.  Anyways, you don’t have to read that last chapter if you don’t want to, as the author tells the reader at the beginning of it, and in spite of that little mistake, as you may call it, Coe has done a splendid job with this really advisable engaging literature,- definitively a page turner- to read with delight while you enjoy the summer.

Note: for more info on this novel or to purchase it you can visit the author’s website in here.


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