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The loneliness of the long-distance driver

Few authors are funnier than Jonathan Coe, and his latest book is as sharp as ever. But its attempt to redefine the state-of the-nation novel is too contrived

By Sam Leith   June 2010

The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim by Jonathan Coe (Penguin, £12.99)

We know, or think we know, roughly what a state-of-the-nation novel looks like, don’t we? It looks something like Blake Morrison’s South of the River or Sebastian Faulks’s A Week In December. It’s usually urban; it generally has a wide sweep; it takes in a range of representative characters; it’s not always a comic novel but it’s always a comedy; its ancestors are panoramic and Victorian.

Jonathan Coe knows all about those: he’s written a couple of them himself. But in The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim, he…

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