You Are Here

Picture this: you are lost and peering intently at an information board when you spot a bright arrow and three magic words:

“You Are Here.”

Delighted as I would be that  in these times of great change someone in the Universe knows where I am, my relief would be further enhanced were there another smaller arrow indicating  the location of the nearest public toilets.

It is in this spirit that I bonded with one of my recent holiday reads: The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim by Jonathan Coe. Maxwell has lost his way in life. His wife and daughter have left him, his depression has debilitated him, he has given up his secure job. Instead he becomes a travelling salesman for organic toothbrushes and his most enduring relationship is with Emma, his name for the SatNav in his hired car. Maxwell Sim badly needs a “You Are Here” moment.

Rescue is at hand though in the form of three pieces of writing that come his way. From his ex- wife, an old flame and his father – these writings help Maxwell understand who he is and where he should be. Coe has written this novel in a disarming style which fudges the boundaries between the writer, the protagonist and the reader.  Coe speaks directly to us, further enhancing our engagement with this character for whom everything seems to have gone wrong. Yet make no mistake, this is a very funny book.

This is the first of Coe’s novels that I have read so I am well pleased to discover that he is a fairly prolific and very successful writer. My only gripe is that I absolutely hated the ending of this book. Did anyone else get that far?