Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Mini-Review of "The Painted Veil" by Somerset Maugham

I ordered this volume primarily because I was eager to read "The Razor's Edge."  Once I finished reading that novel, I was so taken by Somerset Maugham's literary style that I kept reading.  I have reviewed separately the other novels in this compendium.  In this review I will concentrate on "The Painted Veil."

I found "The Painted Veil" to be among the most tender of Maugham's novels.  His style tends to be quite cynical - often poking fun at the antics and the mores of the aristocracy, the literati, the world of actors, etc.  In this novel he certainly does that as he follows British diplomats to Hong Kong and beyond in Asia.  But in this work there is a fascinating relationship between Kitty and Walter  Kitty is the daughter of a family of some means, but she has failed to attract the right husband.  In desperation she marries Walter, a microbiologist with a verse terse and taciturn personality.  She follows him to his post in Hong Kong, where she has an affair with the second in command to the Governor of the colony, Charlie Townsend.  Walter learns of her infidelity, and repercussions of stunning proportion ensue.  Walter and Kitty go off to fight a cholera epidemic in the hinterlands, and both of their worlds change forever based on what they encounter in rural China.

The novel is a complex exploration of infidelity, reprisal, grudges, forgiveness, and the process of rebuilding from tragedy.  It is rich in its portrayal of conflicted characters, and was a very satisfying book to read.



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