Home Forums General Discussion Maxwell Sim – the final chapter

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    I finished the book yesterday and have been inspired to post a response (having spent far too long looking for interpretations of the ending!)

    I’m in the camp who did not enjoy the ending. It actually caused one of the most visceral responses I have had to a book, in that I felt incredibly angry and betrayed at the twist. I think the reason for that is, as others have mentioned, there is a willing suspension of belief when reading a book and anything to challenge that will provoke a reaction.

    Having thought about the ending and reading some comments on here my feelings now are that it was an incredibly profound ending which has caused me to spend some time thinking about relationships, both real and online, and the relationship between the reader and the book. I think in that sense the ending is far more powerful than had Maxwell been "allowed" to live a happy ending.

    However, the sense of "betrayal" remains and in part I think that’s due to how strong a character Maxwell Sim was and how invested I felt in his journey. Partly that’s because of my own emotional connections to him (I fear having the lack of self-knowledge he does), and how well written he is. So whereas similar "tricks" in other books did not inspire the same reaction (my username alludes to one), because I was invested in the character, it hurt to have that happen. Which is a fascinating response and feeds back to the overall point.

    I also think, however, that part of the shock of the ending was that the primary issues raised by it did not seem in line with what I had thought the book to be about, i.e. self-awareness, emotional connections with others and what can help and hinder those. And while there was some resolution it felt secondary to the actual ending.

    Sorry for the long rant, but glad to have somewhere to discuss these rambling thoughts and I look forward to re-reading it to place his journey in the context of the ending.


    Since we are on the topic of Jonathan Coe’s books and his style, here are a few things that I stumbled upon, while reading them:
    http://mariapoeana.com/articles-reviews … eat-writer

    Hope it won’t be considered as spam and that you’ll feel free to share your opinions regarding the books taken into consideration and evaluation in this article 🙂


    Dear Mr Coe,
    i’m here because I, too, didn’t quite understand the ending, thought that maybe I had missed something. Maintaining a forum where you actually contribute is just a great idea for us to share our thoughts on your work.
    For me, the realization of the whole meaning came when I looked upon the original title in English which is "The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim" whereas in the Greek edition it is translated literally into: "The Private Life of Maxwell Sim" which after the shock of the last chapter seems so poor for the power the book has enclosed. The ending clearly made sense to me when I read the original english title of the book, as i was trying to find sources on the internet. Terrible is a much more explanatory adjective to just "private" for Max’s life. Terrible is what happened to Max in the ending, when he realised he is another man’s fiction character set up there for/from his (the "writer’s") private problems, who also trespassed his (Max’s) privacy of being, cancelling his existence as the reader’s hero, inputting him in the position of an unknown writer’s dysfunctional personality. After 495 pages we cannot substitute Max to the lately appeared "writer", and this is terrible to Max who opened his heart to us in the last pages of the book. His secrets and his life are all exposed to us and sort of lead him into his "catharsis" with his past, his nature. A book about a terrible privacy assumes that everything in the life of this fragile hero will be exposed to the world (your readers). Therefore, the (english) title of the book predisposes the reader, more or less, of a fatal annulment of the book’s character and forecasts a big letdown to the hero (not us, the readers!).
    I loved every part of it, every single page. Please bare in mind that in 2003 I spent a whole year in Birmingham, Edgbaston B15 2QU (God i still remember it!!!) doing an MSc and the only thing I truly enjoyed from my staying in your island that year was that one week’s journey to Scotland when i visited Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Inverness, the farthest of all. Now I can only say that I miss Birmingham so much…I’m very grateful to you. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to express myself.


    Dear Jonathan

    I finished reading Maxwell Sim last night and enjoyed the novel a lot. I’m glad to have the opportunity to comment on the final chapter here and found it interesting to read about your and everyone else’s thoughts.

    So, the final scene: When Max meets the author on the beach, I actually feared that the writer would eventually advise Max to write down his experiences, which would explain the novel’s account from Max’s perspective. However, this ending would have been boring, so I’m glad that’s not how the book ends. Instead, the turning point that the narrator is helpless against the author (implied or real), who is actually pretty much a stranger to Max and the reader, came as a real surprise. I was specifically fascinated by the last sentence, which is a brilliant idea to finish a novel.

    Of course, I was also immediately thinking of B.S. Johnson and involuntarily started to analyse the scene (metalepsis! Holding a PhD in Eng Lit doesn’t really help you to read a novel through unbiased eyes ever again, but then, it certainly makes reading novels even more interesting). Already quite at the beginning I realised how wisely the whole narrative is structured, and the ending indeed makes sense if we think about the novel’s main theme, which is, as you write above "the choice we face between forging our most meaningful relationships with real people or with virtual/imaginary personalities". Bearing this in mind, the ending makes perfect sense to round off the story.

    At the same time, I also understand those who have reservations about the unconventional last chapter. I have actually been pondering all day about the slightly awkward feeling I continue to have about it. I think Max’s story is so touching and convincing that it needs the illusion. For instance, when reading the scene in which Max takes Lucy out for dinner (and both escape into the virtual spheres of their mobile phones) you cannot but pity Max and feel sympathy for him. It’s both funny and tragic that he doesn’t understand what Lucy tries to tell him, which is a scene that actually triggered a lot of emotions in me as a reader. So, getting back to the ending, it somewhat undermines all these touching events and feelings that you were so keen to create before.

    I liked Max as a character because he is not the usual suspect of a perfectly smart middle-class guy. He prefers to get his food from the big chains, he is unable to express his feelings appropriately and finds pleasure in buying a nice new TV set for his dad. It’s a pity that this ordinary guy of all people who is so often ignored by literature is eventually dismantled as a mere fiction and executed by his creator. This might be a reason why I felt a bit uncomfortable with the last chapter.

    But after all, it is a sophisticated twist of events, which obviously has provoked some controversies, which I would take as a positive sign. And I would definitely not support someone else’s suggestion in the forum to omit the scene from future editions of the novel.

    Overall, I enjoyed Max’s road trip up North and into his past a lot. I frequently caught myself thinking about the book (while not reading it, obviously), which is a sign that it’s a really good book that is not easily forgotten.


    PS: Someone in this forum mentioned that one of your novels is about someone writing a PhD. Sounds like something I’d like to read. Which one is it?


    I think that what you’re looking for is "A Touch of Love".

    Enjoy it (as much as I enjoyed your musings on Maxwell Sim).




    Dear Jonathan,

    I’ve just finished "The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim" and I’ve stopped by this forum to share opinions and comments. Your original question in this thread was about our expectations from the books we read and what books actually demand. As Annabell wrote here, Maxwell Sim is a character too much disdained by literature, but, at the same time, he is profoundly realistic. Therefore, I assume as possible that many readers might have identified themselves with him. This is – maybe- the reason why the final pages produce such a disappointment in the readers, for they had been feeling a certain sympathy (empathy?) towards Maxwell since the beginning of the novel, but all of a sudden he disappears as a fictitious creature. So the reader is left alone to his/her own privacy and he/she feels uneasy with that. This has been my original reaction, too. However, the ending of Maxwell Sim is also peculiar for your irony. The writer speaks to his own imaginary friend, he is a little bit egocentric and he is interrupted while expressing his own poetic, as the main character is trying to go away. But the irony is just a trick, behind which we find the writer’s argument: he says that he writes just for the sake of "connecting" different ideas taken from different realities, lives, moments and places. The importance of connecting (like Forster wrote in "Howard’s End") different pieces of reality strikes, because Maxwell has not been able to do that. It is exactly the absence of connection that makes Maxwell so desperately solitary and extraneous even to himself. Eventually, we understand that the art of connecting does not rely on ourselves as finite individuals, carrying on our personal and individual stories. In order to make connections, such as that between history and ideology, or between "time past and time future", we need literature and art.

    In sum, to answer to your questions, I would say that we expect to find a reason to our own troubles and insecurities in the characters of the novels we read. But the true answer does not lie in the specific unfolding of each story (as if Maxwell’s discovery of his own homosexuality should be the reason of his opacity). The goal of art is not to promote our identification with the characters, but to makes us beware of our infinite capacity to "see through" our life. That’s the supreme connection that only art makes possible.

    I wish to thank you for having done this with this novel.

    All the best,


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