Home Forums General Discussion Maxwell Sim – the final chapter

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    sorry – bit off the thread line, but somewhat relevant – just finished the rotters club and the dark beer ring on the green coaster? I feel i am missing something that I should be getting, but need to know what it is. even by openly admitting it.

    Excellent book though. Just finished a Graham Green, and the Rotter’s Club was every bit as engaging.


    I read the book translated in Italian: it’s fantastic for me, the ended simply ‘geniale’, what I look for in a novel… and in a writer.


    I just got done reading the book. I have to say it is the first book in a very long time that I enjoyed all the way through. I loved the ending! This is the first book that I have read by Jonathan Coe and was entertained by it! I am going to work on the other books of his that are available and hopefully I won’t be disappointed. It sounds like this may be different from the types of books that Mr. Coe has written in the past. I’ll see! Yet, I did enjoy this book and its ending. I’ve only logged into one other authors website in the past so apparently I’m now a fan!
    Blessings Coe and Coe fans,


    Dear Mr Coe

    As many French people did these times, I read your last novel ( but in english, which is a good training for me…). I can understand, as I read on your blog,that some readers feel a bit upset or disappointed by the end, which they seem to consider as a sort to "tailgate" way of closing the story. This reaction looks to me as fairly natural, as any reader wants to be embedded away towards a parallel life, as if s/he were some god watching upon the characters’ life, and does not like to be abruptly reminded at the end that s/he is only, plainly, reading a book, whose only actual being is … the author.

    Anyway, I personally found this ending of the novel very stimulating and original. I also loved the chapter where Sim’s journey ends in the Scottish hills while he is talking to Emma…and is ( or thinks he is) replied to !

    Thank you very much for this novel, both funny and profound. I think I will not be the only Frenchman to want to unravel your work and soon read your other novels!

    Best regards


    I have just finished Maxwell Sim. I was not upset by the last chapter partly because I had seen a criticism of this in a newspaper review some time ago, but I thought it was signalled earlier in the book anyway. In contrast, when I got to the end of ‘Atonement’, I could have hit Ian McEwan, and have never forgiven him. (Am using hyperbole and not advocating physical violence towards writers.)

    Great to come across this forum and learn that lucky people get to write theses on such interesting subjects. I have enjoyed all Jonathan’s books except the one about the man writing the PhD (see? I have blocked its title from my memory). Also found ‘House of Sleep’ quite distressing.

    Any other long-time Rosamund Lehman fans out there?


    Apologies – I can’t believe I mis-spelt Rosamond Lehmann in my post above. I read an article in the Guardian about Jonathan Coe citing RL as an influence. I think I may have read all her books and one or two by her sister Beatrix. Sadly, most now seem out of print. My favourite is Dusty Answer (by Rosamond). The only one I still own is The Weather in the Streets.

    Having read some posts about House of Sleep, I see that it has been enjoyed as comical – I guess I was just in the wrong frame of mind when I read it, but of course the comic parts are very clever.

    I clearly remember buying The Rotters Club (having been a Hatfield and the North fan) at a railway bookshop and laughing out loud on the train – got some funny looks.


    How funny that someone else had to think of Atonement in this discussion about the ending of Maxwell Sim. There only one thing that compares both endings: possible disappointment on the part of the reader, but definite deftness (ooh, ugly alliteration when you say it out loud) of the author.
    I’m currently on a Paul Auster binge, but will definitely plunge into the few Coe works I have not read yet later this year, or next year. It’s all Auster’s fault, you know, his novels almost touch me in the same way as Coe’s novels do. Almost.
    Here’s a very small article I wrote for a student’s magazine, but it’s in Dutch though. Anyway, I might get lucky and have a Belgian or Dutch Coe fan here who might read it: http://gertvanlerberghe.blogspot.com/20 … lezen.html


    I´ve just finished the book and I must say I belong to those readers who find the ending highly annoying and , what is more , it somehow spoiled the whole reading experience for me .Maybe I must add that there is only a small group of contemporary authors I enjoy but recently I´ve started to lose faith in some of these authors as more and more have disappointed me with their latest books Paul Auster, who is mentioned a few times above is one of them) . I thought Maxwell Sim was going to be an exception since I really enjoyed it right up to the last chapter -mind you , I have nothing against literary tricks but they have to fit in with the tone of the rest of the story and this one certainly doesn´t .What I found fascinating about the book was its examination of the relationship between communication and technology which in one form or another runs through the whole book , sometimes in a serious but more often in a humouresque and satirical manner .The ending . however , is neither and I find it rather condescending , because it tells the reader something he already knows – fiction is always the creation of somebody else´s mind and like the writer, who composes this fiction from different aspects of his own experience the reader takes this fictional experience and weaves it together with his own everyday life -just like Maxwell does in the book.There is no need for the author to hit the reader on the head at the end of the book with some clever twist -I can see this working in a children´s story but here it goes totally against the grain or "tone" of the rest of the story .
    One other thing I didn´t get and found implausible was Max´s discovery of his own homosexuallity at the end -or did I get this all wrong?


    I read the book whilst knowing my rights as a reader: i.e. a reader is allowed to put down a book, never to return to it, like I did with Kakfa ‘The Castle’ as a teenager.

    I was annoyed at the final chapter, but after all the changes, it hardly mattered. And I made a choice that I preferred the ‘previous’ bit as an ending. I can understand how folks who have maybe developed a habit towards an author would be frustrated. But the writer is the writer after all. Authorial intrusion is a contradiction in terms.

    I resisted reading this book for weeks because of my own relation to Donald Crowhurst. Denial and making up a new identity is a tempting trick, one that sometimes has been carried out successfully, although not forever. It’s a really tough kernel in the novel. Takes guts to write about it and not be affected.

    As for Jonathan Coe: I started reading your books as I wrote an essay on BS Johnson and your biography gave me a sense of closure – amazing feat. And, the reason why I started reading BSJ and subsequently Coe is a not-so-nice review of the biography by Frank Kermode (year 2000 I think on London Review of Books).

    I’m not going to say what I think of that review as it still sets me in flames today, as if he had been talking about myself.

    However, if Kermode’s article had not been so disparaging, I’d never have met the writings of Jonathan Coe nor B S Johnson. So, regrettably, I have to say that even vitriol has its purpose.

    My reading experience is spoiled at times by my mood, my expectations, the fact that I’m trying to read standing up in a bus shelter that is crammed, all sorts of things.

    Whatever a writer gives me, I accept. After all the amount of work that goes in a novel is not comparable to any of the financial gain that come with it.



    Maybe this unorthodox chapter is not a random bout of sunstroke but a fitting coda to the novel. Maxwell creates artificial relationships and ignores opportunities to develop real ones. At the same time the reader (and author) is creating a relationship with an imagined character – Maxwell himself. The (optional) coup de grace after Maxwell’s happy ending gives a final nudge towards putting the novel’s thrust into practise; away with artificiality, find a human being to with whom you can connect.


    I think that you hit the target, Dottie. With a little addendum. Maybe, one can also discern a bit of self-criticism there. A literary move coherent with a comical (modest) attitude toward life. Miles away from any sort of authorial arrogance: "See, I may sound presumptuous and uppish, but I’m just like you and Maxwell: lost in this muddle of fact and fiction; afraid to be hurt; unknown to myself. So, don’t misunderstand me. I’m not a hero or a prophet. I also need to learn from my foibles and follies". I may be wrong, but I don’t see any condescension in Jonathan’s stance. He’s critical, of course, but he’s not taking a view from nowhere. He’s like us: awkwardly struggling to come to terms with all the messiness we experience in modern life. It might also be an indirect response to B.S. Johnson’s modernist radicalism. But I may be overinterpreting him, here. Yet, it’s interesting how a lot of readers sensed a bit of condescension or lack of nerve in the author’s refusal to play his leading role till the end. It is something to be mulled over…


    "……..putting the novel’s thrust into practise; away with artificiality, find a human being to with whom you can connect."

    I can´t imagine it being Jonathan Coe´s intention to act as a spiritual advisor and tell his readers to communicate with "real"people rather than "wasting" their time with reading a novel


    The author asks us to suspend disbelief when reading. We comply – especially if it’s as engaging and well-written as this. So, when you remind us at the end, that it is in fact, fiction – we feel hoodwinked.

    I wanted it to end with ‘I’m always attracted to the voice first’.

    I thought it was a clever ending though, was initially disappointed, then thought all you were doing is reminding us it was fiction and easing us back into the ‘real’ world – whatever that might be.

    It’s still a brilliant book. I grew up in Watford. You were very gentle about it!

    Looking forward to whatever you write next.

    Andy Hayes


    I’m currently writing some sort of post-academic "essay" about Coe’s work. Why? Because I can’t get enough of both Coe’s novels and my literary education. I’m working fulltime now and it’s great to let my mind function in this way again and write about literature. I’m really looking forward to ending the process and to publishing it on my blog – I will put a link on this message board for those who will be interested. It is great to run through all of these amazing stories again, after burying myself in Auster’s fiction for many months. However much I came to appreciate – and love! – the work of Paul Auster, I immediately realized that Jonathan Coe’s work is still the greatest, the moment I opened What a Carve Up! again, after many months, to study Michael’s experiences of lost opportunity.

    Here is what I wrote about Maxwell Sim’s ending. I’m curious if people agree or disagree with it:

    "The much disputed ending of The Terrible Tragedy of Maxwell Sim […] is openly meta-linguistic, as the main character Maxwell Sim finally meets his Maker, in both senses, that is. Not only does he meet Jonathan Coe, his spiritual father, who tells him that he is not going anywhere because he is nothing more than a fictional character, but he also kills him off by simply stating that this is the end of the novel and that there is no so-called afterlife. The novel ends when the author wants it to end. The fact that this last chapter abruptly shatters the game of make-belief that is fiction, seems to have bothered many readers. The story they have been following is ultimately nothing more than a non-event – it didn’t happen because it is fiction – and the characters they have been empathizing with, only exist inside the covers of the novel. This pushed meta-level is typical of post-modernistic writing, and it is not the only aspect to be found in Coe’s work."



    I hope it’s okay if I submit the link to the first part of my text about Coe here, if not, I’ll start another discussion. I hope it will be of any interest to anyone of you big Coe fans 🙂

    http://gertvanlerberghe.blogspot.com/20 … unity.html

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