Jonathan Coe has been known since the seventies as a political satirist and a very funny writer in Britain,remember the huge success of " The House of Sleep and " What a Carve up") but now he is has switched to a more serious and grave tone as middle age sets in for him and for his heroes. We are in the suburbs and Max had been severely depressed for a year, out of work and divorced; The pits, as they say . What can be done except finding out what went wrong and going back on painful events ,lost opportunities and ordinary failures in the absolutely plain life of this looser of a guy who manage somehow to win our sympathies. A difficult task but the ironic tone and still very acerbic pen of Jonathan Coe helps to unfurl the melodrama as we go along this pilgrimage, since a year of therapy has achieved nothing much : Max travels to Australia to visit his estranged father to no avail because they do not talk, returns to England having only noticed a Chinese woman playing nicely with her kid in a restaurant,then visits his ex wife and kid and nothing changes, visits an old flame whom he beds in a drunken state.. all of this in a décor of British ,Post Blair style of consumer's paradise which is hilariously critical : Corporate meaningless jobs, Driving on Motor ways, awful Chain restaurants, atmospheric Bars, Barbe Cues,TV shows etc.. a scene very much like middle class America in an Updike novel , but funnier thank God! Coe describes the bliss of the car GPS and its lovely Voice as no one else does, and his description of menus to be found in Welcome Breaks of the road are priceless: Pizzas," Coffee Primo","Prosciutto and salad Panini " are our hero's favorites. He likes them and eats them everyday ; this is the sort of place where he belongs." A little oasis of urban ordinariness"as Coe describes it . He even likes the rustic chairs and tables and feels comfy and reassured by them.
So what is the crux of this failed life ? The terrible loneliness of Max who knows nothing about himself : he is in a fog but step by step and painfully, he finds out capital facts that have shaped his life: his father is an homosexual never out of the closet, his own marriage died because there was no sex and no talk between spouses since the child's birth ( 7 years) and finally he is a secret homosexual himself… curiously the all important fact of an interesting work is not dealt with, but he does find a job again and will resume his life.Coe tells a story of survival in the modern Hi Tech world, it is simple and at the same time terribly difficult ; the web and its social Sites are evidently not the answer.
Middle age is accepting life as it is, failures and irretrievable losses as well as good points which were neglected, the human lot in a known world, no rhyme to flee to Australia or the other side of the world as if paradise was waiting there. There is no paradise, only the Real ( or Reality ) which is our given destiny: "proceed on the current motorway", says the lovely voice of" Emma" on the GPS . Just don't fall in love with Emma, she does not exist.