Wednesday, September 09, 2015

First Wednesday 's Book Review Club: THE PAINTED VEIL, Somerset Maugham


This was a book club choice. Several times a year, we do classic novels and this one was chosen after several members had seen and admired the film of a few years ago.

THE PAINTED VEIL is set mostly in Hong Kong. Kitty Fane is unhappily married and engages in an affair. When her husband learns of it, he gives her an ultimatum: either marry your lover at once or come with me to a remote region where a cholera epidemic is raging. (Her husband is a bacteriologist). This seems like an easy choice, but her lover declines her proposal, preferring to stay with his rich wife and engage in short-term affairs. She is devastated because she believed them to be truly in love.

So Kitty must go with her husband. She quickly bores of her life as a rich and sequestered woman and begins to help the nuns at a nearby convent care for children. Her husband remains cold to her, but her work enriches her life.

To tell you any more would constitute a spoiler. So I will leave it with that.

This was a terrific novel until the ending, which I  disliked. Perhaps when I have time to consider it further, I will change my mind and see what Maugham meant to say. Perhaps not.

A terrific movie too with Naomi Watts and Edward Norton. The ending is different--wisely.

P.S. Most members of my book group did not care for this book. They thought the writing felt dated and the characters wooden. None had read Maugham before. Rather disappointing and I wondered if the three of us who saw the movie first carried that into the book with us. Or were the rest of them plain wrong. 

WHAT HAVE YOU READ BY Somerset Maugham? 

For more book reviews, see Barrie Summy. 

19 comments:

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

Jackie liked the movie a lot too. The day she saw it I went to see Forrest Whitaker in THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND, which she refused to see.

I've read mostly Maugham's plays and short stories, plus CAKES AND ALE.

Jeff M.

George said...

I've read Maugham's short stories. He was a master of that form.

pattinase (abbott) said...

CAKES AND ALE is my favorite. But I read all of his work back in the day.

Stacy said...

I haven't read anything by Maugham, but I'm intrigued now. Would you recommend starting with this one or another one?

pattinase (abbott) said...

I would start with his short story collection CAKES AND ALE. And if you enjoy that try OF HUMAN BONDAGE. Although the movie of this one with Naomi Watts is a real winner.

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

If you like spy stories, read ASHENDEN. Maugham was a British spy during World War I and he wrote a series of stories about Ashenden, a British spy, based partly on his own experiences. Otherwise I like the South Seas short stories and CAKES AND ALE - a thinly veiled book partly based on author Hugh Walpole.

Jeff M.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Another one I liked was UP AT THE VILLA. For some reason, I thought CAKES AND ALE was the ss collection. Oh, those years between me and a good memory.

Elgin Bleecker said...

Patti – I admire Maugham’s writing style. Is he becoming one of those forgotten authors? Few people I know, know Maugham. They are missing some good novels and a lot of fine short stories. His book, THE RAZOR’S EDGE, was my intro to him. Two short stories to check out are the light THE FACTS OF LIFE and the shocking THE BOOK-BAG. Two fun British movies, anthologies from his short stories, are QUARTET and TRIO.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I fear that is the case, Elgin.

troutbirder said...

I love to go back to classic authors I hadn't read yet. I'll give it a try....:)

Alyssa Goodnight said...

Interesting! The premise sounds quite good, but you have me worried over the ending. Maybe I'll go with the movie. ;)

Richard R. said...

I've only read THE MOON AND SIXPENCE and OF HUMAN BONDAGE by him. I liked the former quite a bit.

Linda McLaughlin said...

My literary education is obviously lacking, since I haven't read Maugham. Maybe I'll start with the movie version of The Painted Veil. I wanted to see it when it came out, but never got to the theater. Good review.

Deb said...

I read a lot of his work back in the day--very much the stiff-upper-lip Englishman ( or woman) facing the challenges of life in exotic locales. I think my favorite was CAKES AND ALE (supposedly a roman-a-clef about Thomas Hardy and his wives) and THE LETTER (also made into an interesting movie with a somewhat changed ending to slip by the Hollywood censors). He also hosted several movie adaptations of his short stories of which THE PEARL NECKLACE was my favorite.

I'm surprised there hasn't been an attempt to dramatize Maugham's life. Like most gay men of his time, he was in the closet, married with a child and deeply unhappy. Late in life, after divorcing his wife, he tried to change his will, cutting out his wife and daughter and leaving the bulk of his estate to his lover. When his ex-wife took legal action to prevent this, he tried to adopt his lover as his son to allow the settlement of the estate. This was as good as admitting his sexual orientation and caused quite a scandal at the time (1950s/60s?).

Cloudbuster said...

Great classic. I love Somerset Maugham. THE MOON AND SIXPENCE was a high school favorite. Thanks for the excellent review!

Rose said...

I don't think I've read anything by Maugham other than his short stories, but this does sound interesting. I think any time you read something from an earlier time period, it takes some adjusting to the language and the more leisurely pace of that writing. Thanks for the review; I enjoyed reading all the recommendations in the comments, too. Maybe it's time for me to re-visit Maugham!

Sarah Laurence said...

I haven't read any books by this author but this story sounds quite original. Thanks for the recommendation!

Barrie said...

I read The Razor's Edge about a million years ago. And I thought I'd read The Painted Veil until your review! So, who knows what I've mixed it up with?! I have not seen the movie, but would like, too. I just read on Wikipedia that Maugham's first book sold out so quickly, he quit medicine to write full time. Interesting! Thank for reviewing!

Jennifer A. Jilks said...

Interesting, thoughtful questions. I seldom watch a movie first, but I have done. Usually only for movie that veer off of the book somewhat.
(ツ) from Cottage Country Ontario , ON, Canada!