The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim – our modern day Candide


It is a terrible thing when one’s privacy is open to ridicule. Indeed a terrible thing when your deepest fears and insecurities are the basis of someone’s chitchat and discussion. So here we go, with Mr. Maxwell Sim, who in all honesty, had been dealt a pretty bad hand here.

The terrible privacy of Maxwell Sim” was written by Jonathon Coe and released in 2010. Other than learning the terrible secrets of Maxwell Sim as he himself discovered it in the book, it also contained a rag tag of themes from modernization of communication through phone and internet, parent child relationships in the new age, missed chances due to lack of technology and a hint to the eventual financial crisis due to hedge funds on hedge funds. Nothing escaped this book, GPS, facebook, satellite communications, mobile phones, emails, pseudo names, internet chat rooms, the financial crisis, road trip, homosexuality, parent child relationship, loneliness, abandonment, divorce, adultery, love lost, friendships. I think the only things missing are murder and extra torrential activity.

How can one contend with a book pack with so much? We don’t. The most logical answer to the author’s choice of extra-large bag of themes is that the book is written in first person. And as a person, our thought process and synapses can be that active to swing from one topic to another. Putting aside all these distractions and possibly the ending of the book, I can honestly say, it is touching and insightful.

I thought the opening chapter was the book at its best. If it kept at the same tangent, we would have a thoroughly perceptive book on the struggles on Maxwell Sim. But let’s not get distracted.

At 48 years old, Maxwell is now facing a change in his life. His wife has left him and brought his daughter with her to live in another city. It was during his time off from work due to depression that he was given the opportunity of a road trip as part of a company’s marketing campaign. Thus, the beginning of uncovering the truth of his past. I’m not sure if there was self-discovery in the process but there are lots of discoveries. And he seemed to have found the reason for his troubles and why he is who he is.

While the insights of Maxwell is deeply moving and often comical, I can’t help but feel that it is too easy. If only life can be explained in such linear line of action and outcome. There is a feeling of a catch all reason for his troubles. Especially towards the end, when the author attempts to give a reason for the failure of his marriage, it just felt too easy.

Right from the beginning, I can’t help but empathize with Maxwell’s desire for intimacy as he watches a chinese woman play card game with her daughter. Me too, I dream of a day when my mum and I can have a proper conversation that consist of a complete sentence instead of radio silence. And I can’t help but wonder if one day, I can find that one reason why my mum acts the way she does. But I wonder if life is really that simple. Maybe it is. Maybe, it is simply because she hadn’t wanted me and couldn’t accept my presence. Like Maxwell’s father.

It is a troubling book.

None of the issues are discussed other than a chapter dedicated to it. As many as there are chapters, as many are the subjects held together as thinly as the plot is. Yet, there is a simpleton courage like that of Maxwell’s, almost as comical as Voltaire’s Candide, in accepting the reason given is the cause of each issue.

Perhaps, we can only relish at this courage of taking life as it is, with a zest of lemon.

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