For Maxwell Sim, in Jonathan Coe’s new novel The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim, a game of cards played by a Chinese mother and her young daughter in a restaurant becomes a symbol of desirable intimacy. Its opposite is Sim himself having dinner with the daughter he rarely sees, each too busy sending and receiving messages on their mobile phones to talk to one another. In a world dominated by systems intended to facilitate communication, Sim’s privacy is indeed terrible. Inarticulate and conventional, he has become isolated from human warmth and affection and, at the age of forty-eight, has failed to understand his own nature and desires. Eventually, despite his more than seventy friends on Facebook, his only confidante is Emma, the voice on his in-car SatNav system. In this very funny, very sobering book, Coe tenderly traces the fall and redemption of a mediocre man.
The novel begins with Sim being found, partially clothed and suffering from hypothermia, in a car in a remote part of Scotland. Sim then takes over as narrator, explaining how he arrived at this crisis. A salesman whose modest career in a London department store depended on his