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This is definitely one of the most impressive and moving pieces of prose I’ve ever read. The sad and tragic way things turn out for him, and his widow’s conclusion at the end made me shiver. Jonathan, I think that in general you strike a very important chord with this novel. I had never expected a sequel to ‘What a Carve Up!’, but in a way this might be what we might have expected of it. It says so much about our society the way ‘What a Carve Up!’ said about the late eighties. The way you write about the gigantic gap between the rich and the poor, and how grabbing and greed have become serious illnesses, the victims of which are we, not the people who ‘suffer’ from the illness, how everything has become a commodity, it all gives a voice to the way I see society. Once again you prove your novels have a far deeper impact on me than 95% of the other works of fiction I read, and that experience is very soothing. Over the past few years I’ve been re-reading most of your novels (most of them for a second time, others for a third time), and I can only conclude I’m far from as unfortunate as Roger. I have the novels right here and I can travel back to their storyworld, their suspense and their wit any time I want. Thank you for not letting us down in what is in fact a sequel to what is imho the most important and impressive novel of all time.
It has become my favourite novel of all time, and I read daily. It has slightly changed my ideas of politics and how the world works. It has deeply influenced me in my own writing. It was my first Coe ever and I will never forget it. Thanks a lot literary studies of Postmodernism in English!
I’m most certainly looking forward to any such an event and more so to the novel itself. And glad to read that the final part of the novel takes place in Antwerp, if that is indeed the city you remember I live in.
Putting the American and Russian pavillions one next to the other in the 50s was indeed not the most clever idea we had. Although I visited the Atomium for the first time in February last year, I didn’t know about that fact yet.
Happy New Year to you too!
Glad to read that there’s a connection between my two favourite writers. Over the past few years it was especially Auster who has enchanted me with his amazing novels. There certainly is a connection between both authors, as, more than other writers, both storytellers are able to create a storyworld in which I can completely lose myself, characters that grow on me and never let go, passages that belong to either the most funny or the most moving of English literature, etc. I think Paul Auster would be a great recommendation to any Coe fan.
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
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."
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
My girlfriend really liked the book, but at the end she playfully said that she was "angry" with the writer :p I guess it’s unavoidable.
I’m writing myself and I’m trying to get some of these "metastuff" in it as well. It might be a reason why people wouldn’t want to publish my novel or read any more of my short stories.
People want their writer to take his stories seriously. And in my opinion this is something you really do (except for "The Accidental Woman", the novel I just finished, but even there you feel that you actually feel sorry for that woman, and for the implied author for having such an irritating writing style :p). Even in Maxwell Sim! I mean, it’s not that, like Pynchon, you make characters who are difficult to sympathize with (Pynchon does this on purpose of course, so he’s still a genius).
All in all, drawing attention to the art itself is not always a bad thing. It does not always destroy the meaning of the work of art, in this case, a novel, a story containing some truth. It’s difficult to find a balance between writing great, recognizable stories and making very humanlike characters that are easy to sympathize with, and actually do something innovating, experiment with style and narrative. For me, you have found that perfect balance, and I’m very curious to your next novels. Never lose that extremely funny, incredibly moving, politically and socially conscious touch your novels have, though! 🙂
A huge fan you haven’t heard about for a whilequote :
Hear, hear. You’re absolutely right. I’ve written a thesis about this, and I’ve read books of, among others, Lisa Zunshine, in order to understand this. It’s a very interesting thing, characterism. It made me want to experiment with it in my own novel, in which the boundaries of fiction and reality start to blur. Really fascinating how our mind gathers textual clues in order to compose a character ourselves. And no one who will ever know whether that image of that character corresponds or is even remotely similar to the character the author had in mind.
Actually the ending reminds me of something you’ve written about fiction (as opposed to B.S. Johnson’s ultrarealistic notion of fiction): Literature should not be very lifelike, or not try too hard to achieve a state of realism, or even naturalism, if that term still means something these days. Literature should embellish things. Literature should make the reader aware that he or she is actually reading a novel.
Well, I do tend to forget that while reading your novels, or Paul Auster’s, or any writer whose fiction is a true revalation. I liked the ending, but only as a sort of wake-up call, or a playful device. In my mind, I try to seperate both endings. As a non-actual person, Maxwell will meet this uncle and they will probably – or hopefully – be happy together. And the bond with his father will be reinforced. But as a literary character, he simply disappears. Just like Victor Frankenstein does, just like Leopold Bloom does, just like Meursault does, just like Benjamin Trotter does. Not with a snap of the fingers from the author in question, but when the reader turns the page and decides about which novel to read next.
My girlfriend has read quite a few novels of yours already, and she really loved them. I wonder what she will think of this ending, whenever she will read the book.
In any case, how great to have written a passage that has sparked off so many different opinions.
lol! "La Vie très privée de Mr Sim" 😀
Contact me on FB if you want to, you’ll probably find me on the Coe fanpage 🙂
Dear Jonathan Coe
That’s too much honour, really, but thanks for the compliment. I haven’t read any of your novels since a few weeks after we met in Ghent (I don’t want to be "out of Coe novels", because it will probably take a at least one and a half years until your next publication). My literary explorations have tipped over to some older classics, but my girlfriend is reading my favourite Coe novels now, and I gladly watched the ‘What a Carve Up’ film again, before she started reading part 2 of WACU! (An Organisation of Deaths). All of this keeps me close to your storyworlds. I also wrote something about your works (three reasons to read Coe + a strong recommendation of your latest novel). Finally, I’ve also watched the BBC series of The Rotters’ Club, which brought me back to the Trotter world once again. I really enjoyed that series. It reminded me of my trips to Italy, when I first read the two novels, and of course of the joyful times when I was writing my thesis about Cicely Boyd, only less than one year ago, and yet, in the new context of an office job, it seems like a long time ago.
It surprises me that a biography should be judged to be your best work by a great deal of people. That only confirms how extremely good it must be. I’ve been searching in bookstores for a B.S. Johnson novel (I want to read at least one before tackling your biography), but without any success. Guess I’ll have to order it or buy one whenever you come back to give another splendid interview somewhere in Belgium, the environmental muse for your latest novel. If even your essay about B.S. Johnson and Writing the Contemporary was able to move me (what a tragic figure indeed!), then what will be the effect of a biography? Of course, your two earliest works are on my reading list as well. And, you’re right, I only read your books in English. That goes for every author who publishes in English.
I’ve also completed my own first novel, although I just keep re-reading and modifying it before bringing it to a publisher. I myself am really proud of it, and I hope that – should I be so lucky as to get it published – the story will appeal to at least a bunch of people. Not everyone has got the gift to do that. Well, all of this has got nothing to do with this message board but just as I felt I HAD to tell you how much your novels mean to me, I also feel I have to tell you that your stories have been a huge influence on my writing process, although I’m afraid my novel misses the necessary brio to be even COMPARED to your work.
By the way, thanks for your answer, and enjoy whatever you’re doing or planning to do the next couple of weeks.
Wow, Melanie, sounds really interesting, especially the part on how the structure of the novel also takes the form of a (closed) circle, one of the many meanings of the title of the second part of the Trotter diptych. Reminds me of how many interpretations there are for the line ‘what a carve up!’ and how the narrative and the text of WACU! are also totally carved up.
I also loved writing my thesis. In October, right after meeting Jonathan Coe, I started working on an all encompassing (and I’m afraid also slightly generalising) ‘essay’ about his work, but I stopped writing when I wanted to continue writing my own novel. Not sure whether I will continue this essay and whether I would be able to publish it somewhere, but in any case it’s nice working with Coe’s texts.
Next time I log in, I will try to sum up my thesis about Coe’s ambiguous characterisation in the Trotter dyptich, and I hope I will be able to capture the most important points I made there almost a year ago.
Answers, opinions, texts, essays, papers, books, letters, blogs… about Jonathan Coe’s work are never boring 😀 Thanks for showing interest in my thesis as well ^^
Would you like to tell me a bit more about your thesis about TRC and TCC? I myself wrote about these books as well and it’s very interesting to read that other people are doing the same thing 🙂