Posted by: billpurdue | December 2, 2010

The latest from Jonathan Coe

If you don’t live in my neck of the woods, dear reader, (by that I mean the Chad circulation area of North Notts and NE Derbys.) you may not know that it has been snowing rather  lot recently. As I write there is a layer of about half a metre everywhere and it’s still snowing, though fairly lightly. Anyway, when there’s snow outside, what could be better than sitting by the fire and having a good read?

That’s just what I’ve been doing and I’ve just finished  a book that is quite unlike anything I’ve read before. I have to say that, reading The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim by Jonathan Coe [Viking £12.99 978-0670918799] didn’t immediately grab me, as it were. It took rather longer than normal for it to become a good page turner, but the wait was worth it.

Maxwell Sim is in his late forties and is just returning from visiting his father in Australia. His wife has recently left him, taking his daughter with her and he is off work with depression. His visit to his father was unsuccessful in that he still, after all these years, has not been able to have a meaningful conversation with him. Maxwell’s attempts at communication and forming relationships all seem to come to nothing. He meets a girl called Poppy at the Singapore stopover, who invites him to meet her mother when they get back to England, only to find that Poppy thinks he might be a suitable match for her mother, not her. Even the man he gets talking to on the plane has a heart attack and dies during the journey.

At the end of the six months sick leave on full pay, he decides to leave his job and take up an offer from his old friend Trevor to join a small team of sales representatives to promote a new range of toothbrushes. This involves driving all the way to the Shetland Isles as part of some bizarre sales ploy. Max decides to take his time and visits relatives and old friends on the way there. In so doing he begins to discover some dark family secrets which explain some of the things about his past which have until now been a mystery.

How things turn out in the end is quite unexpected and, as I said earlier, quite unlike anything I’ve read before. There is a strange and very sudden ending, which may satisfy some but not others. Is it too contrived? – I’ll leave you to decide for yourself. For Mr Coe’s website go to

Coffee table books – or doorstoppers!

I’ve just had one of those emails from Amazon with details of tempting offers on a selection of coffee table books. One of those is The Times Waterways of Britain [Times £30 978-0007366330] which is a really nice book to plonk on your coffee table for a browse when you sit and relax. It has short-ish chapters on all the major canals in Great Britain and these are interspersed with what are called “Mileposts”, two page sections , each one dealing with significant developments in the history of canals, important canal landmarks and so on. This book would not satisfy the serious canal enthusiast, but for those, like me, who find the canals an attractive environment and a reminder of our industrial past, it’s a rather nice Christmas present.

Another doorstopper – an even bigger one – is the Dorling Kindersley Science, (editor –in-chief Adam Hart-Davis) [DK £30 9781405361910]. Of course this is the sort of book that might be marketed as being an essential reference book for secondary school homework, but it’s also the sort of book that I really enjoy browsing through. At 512 pages and with its lavish illustrations (and I think that’s not an overstatement) I could while away hours leafing through it. Of course the illustrations are typical of what you would expect from DK :  if you look carefully you could get it for considerably less than the published price.

Next time I think it’s time for my “pick of the year”.

PS – apologies for the lack of links to other websites. The system for inserting them seems to have changed and I haven’t got used to it yet!

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