October 07, 2011

The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham

I'm not sure what to think of this book. It's definitely a masterful telling of growth and sorrow, but despite that I didn't feel connected with the novel. The characters are hard to like even though they are only doing what is in their nature.

Kitty is a silly foolish girl interested only in frivolity and parties. She is not all to blame, her mother has made her this way in hoping that she'd make a good match for marriage. However, time flies by and soon Kitty finds herself a spinster at twenty-five, not having made a suitable match. The same is not said for her younger sister who, although not as pretty, is getting ready to marry a very notable man. Desperate not to be left behind, Kitty agrees to marry Walter, a doctor who is returning to China where his work as a bacteriologist is.

After two years with him though, Kitty has discovered that they have nothing in common and does not love him at all or could even begin to. During her time she has found a lover, whom she has fantasies that she can run off and be with him forever. Her hopes are dashed though when they are finally caught by Walter and he gives her two choices. Come with him to a cholera infected area of China, or convince her lover to marry her and divorce his wife. She asks her lover and receives an unexpected answer that forces her to go with Walter in the face of certain death by cholera. It is here however, that she begins to learn and change and try to make herself a better person. The only thing holding her back is the lack of Walter's forgiveness.

Kitty is definitely not a like-able character. I don't care that she does work towards becoming a better character as she cannot be consistent with it. I realize it is human nature to do the best for yourself and take the easy route, but she does it quite a bit and I find it hard to sympathize with her. I also don't feel any pity for Walter, her husband. He wasn't a very strong person and in addition to that he just has very strange mannerisms that seem unlikely in a doctor. He would have had trouble going through medical school with some of his social issues.

The writing was ok. There was some description but it wasn't written very interestingly. It was in the 3rd person and mainly followed Kitty and all her day to day proceedings. Maugham does great dialogue, but he didn't do as well with making a connection to his characters in my opinion. At times I found myself skimming through some boring parts of the book hoping something would happen.

This could probably be considered a classic. But that to me doesn't automatically make a book excellent. I thought this one was average, not fantastic but not poor either.

The Painted Veil
Copyright 1925
246 pages

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