Saturday, July 24, 2010

Coe plays games with the reader in The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim

Book 61: The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim by Sebastian Coe

Seldom has an author undermined his own novel as successfully as Sebastian Coe undermines his most recent work, The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim.

In the final eight pages of the novel, Coe, a British author, commits the literary equivalent of seppuku. In those pages, Coe delves into metafiction. He pulls back the curtain to expose the fraud perpetrated upon the reader in the book's first 332 pages.

Metafiction is when an author self-consciously addresses the devices of fiction, exposing the fictional illusion. I have no problem with metafiction as a literary device. Paul Auster uses it to good effect. The difference between Auster and Coe is that Auster ushers the reader behind the curtain in the early stages of the novel. That makes all the difference. With Auster we're in the joke. With Coe, Ha, Ha, silly wanker, the joke is on us.

The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim is a story of alienation, of a man lonely and alone in the midst of a communications cornucopia. Sim, who is clinically depressed, has lost his job, his wife and child. He's estranged from his father and his best friend. And, Sim discovers, having 72 friends on Facebook doesn't count for all that much.

Sims talks to the sat-nav system in his rented car (he's seduced by its voice), applauds the proliferation of chain restaurants because he finds the sameness they offer comforting and he seems to be in deep denial about his sexuality. He's one messed up man.

Early in the novel, there is a reference to John Updike's Rabbit novels. With reason. Sim's middle class angst, alienation and depression echo the life of Updike's Rabbit Angstrom.

Here's a suggestion, pass up The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim and read the Rabbit novels. Updike isn't playing games with the reader.

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