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.