Jonathan Coe - The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim

Rating 6.0

Phew wee! Jonathan Coe did it again.

A pretty decent effort of a novel spoiled by an abrupt, clumsy (and metafictional!) ending.

Pity, because The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim (no better titles available) does have its good moments and includes some brilliant dialogues and ideas.

Just like Mr. Coe would be able to write.

Alas, there's just too much writing here: too many characters, too many subplots nonchalantly left open, too many letters/emails/essays/short stories to fill the gaps and keep the story going by tossing it here and there with no mercy. Ah, and there's too much of a certain NavSat...

These 330 pages could have been either 200 (drying the story up) or 500 (by expanding it). But Mr. Coe didn't bother to make the effort.
Hence, 330 pages left me bored while leafing through them and unsatisfied once done with the book and actually asking for more.

Perhaps only a passing mark is too harsh a rating for this book, but if I think to what Coe wrote in the past, this novel doesn't deserve three stars. Potential is a double-edged sword: ask Ian McEwan.


Edmund de Waal - The Hare With Amber Eyes

Rating 7.8

'Hello, this is Mr Editor calling from Big Publisher, may I talk with Mr De Waal?
'Good morning Mr De Waal, I've good news for you regarding the publication of your...ehm Mr De Waal?
'Yes? What's the matter?
'I'm afraid I cannot hear you very well. Are you alright? The phoneline seems to be quite disturbed...
'Oh, apologies Mr Editor. It's only my wheel. You see, I'm working on a rather minimalist bowl for the Victoria & Albert Museum.
'I see.
'You know, I'm first and foremost a potter. And then a flaneur. And then an asthete. And then a researcher. And then a writer.
'Oh, come Mr De Waal! Don't let yourself down. What I was going to say is that we of Big Publisher will be glad to publish your book entitled 'The...the Hare...
'The Hare with Amber Eyes?
'That's it! Thank you, Mr De Waal. And what a brilliant title that is!
'Well, to be honest I'm not quite sure of that Mr Editor. Are you sure that such a title will work?
'If it will work?! But of course, it will. Mr De Waal, let me tell you something. With a title like 'The Amber with Hare Ears...
'It's 'The Hare with Amber Eyes'
'Whatever. With a title like the one we chose, your book on family bibelots will sell like hotcakes. Wait and see. After all I didn't choose 'The Hare and the Embers' for nothing
'It's 'The Hare with Amber Eyes'. I think you are confusing me with Sandor Marai...
'Ah Mr De Waal, Mr De Waal. That's not the point. Now, don't let yourself down and trust me...

The author at the wheel shaping minimalist pottery. I daresay I prefer him writing

And trusted him Mr De Waal did. And The Hare with Amber Eyes sell surprisingly well and also got a bunch of literary prizes including the Costa Book Award (which sounds perfect for hotcakes).

You may be surprised. Despite of its all but aptly chosen title, this book is a little treasure.
I was rather skeptical when I started reading the story of the once wealthy Ephroussi family intertwined with crunchy bits of history and art, but over the course of the book I changed my mind completely.

Reading this book you will learn that Renoir was not only a great artist but also an utter moron 

Edmund De Waal may be a world known potter, but he certainly know how to be an engaging writer and a storyteller. There is much quality and much aestheticism in this book and I savoured it with relish.
When reading The Hare with Amber Eyes you will find yourself in Paris, Vienna, Tokyo and Odessa before and after the Great War and World War Two.

You will learn an awful lot on the Ephroussi dynasty (family tree included!), but - above all - you will wish to discover or rediscover the French impressionists, Proust, Austrian secessionism and Japanese art.

The Hare with the Amber Eyes surrounded by her fellow netsuke from the Ephroussi Collection

I had never heard of those tiny carved jewels named 'netsuke' before (that's what the hare with amber eyes refers to!) and I have to thank Mr De Waal to open up my eyes. This book works on so many levels that I cannot really give it justice in a short review.
Suffice is to say that one should read this to win over the daily triviality of a dull commuter's life.


Winter on a Double-Decker

Condensation as compensation
for the dull
of daily words of annihilation
again and again
bottled up in thoughts
every now and then.
Row after row after row of
absurd, untold litigations
left standing and tossed
on the top of a bitter
And that's it. That's what. That's why
the suburban semi-frozen
preoccupied bus-driver  
is caught off guard on
his early morning shift
when someone doesn't tell him