The Painted Veil – W. Somerset Maugham

04 Dec

paintedveilKitty Fane is the beautiful but shallow wife of Walter, a bacteriologist stationed in Hong Kong.  Unsatisfied by her marriage, she starts an affair with charming, attractive and exciting Charles Townsend.  But when Walter discovers her deception, he exacts a strange and terrible vengeance: Kitty must accompany him to his new posting in remote mainland China, where a cholera epidemic rages….

What is it about love and cholera? They seem popular bedfellows in literature. Irrelevant observations aside though, I never used to be one for love stories and I thought I would have to knock this one on the head pretty early on as it was full of the sort of characters I don’t have time for.  Saying that though, in its favour it is another book from the Vintage range and was recommended to me, so I carried on.

‘Glad is he, the man who carries on’, is probably a phrase that someone somewhere has uttered before (probably Mr Miyagi from The Karate Kid, the original one, you can’t beat the 80’s) and it was spot on in this case.  Although to start with my sadistic side came out in full force, wanting bad things to happen to all the utterly shallow and foolish characters, I found myself warming to some of them and thoroughly falling in love with the book.

For a novel weighing in at 140 grams and consisting of 220 pages a lot happens, less so in terms of the amount of plot progression but a lot more on the character development of Kitty, through her trials, her history and the grinding of life’s tests through to a satisfactory conclusion which happily avoids a few of the hinted at possibilities scattered throughout the text.

Set in colonial china the story is very much of its time and shows the class divisions and the views of the British of its colonial citizens. Portrayed in honest brutality by Maugham, he also fuses this with a forthright take on human nature and the chaos and fate of life.  To say there is a sunny outlook would be a blatant lie.

Maugham’s writing is one of those slightly strange styles, like that of Dickens, that usually mean that the odd time I had to read a couple of sentences over again as they didn’t quite work the first time but it doesn’t break the flow much, as it’s fantastically written and there are some wonderful parts that demand to be reread. Ultimately you get into the habit of taking your time over each page sinking into the prose like Cleopatra in asses milk.


Posted by on 04/12/2012 in Modern Classics


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14 responses to “The Painted Veil – W. Somerset Maugham

  1. readingwithrhythm

    04/12/2012 at 20:22

    My Mom Person happens to be a fan of Mr Maugham and says that this book is one of her favorites. And the cover you posted is beautiful!


    • StetotheJ

      04/12/2012 at 20:26

      It’s the Vintage cover although i have seen one of a woman with her bra showing seeming shocked at a door being opened. That one makes it look like an ‘erotic’ book, I wouldn’t have taken that to the pub so its lucky I got the nice one. I can’t wait to get stuck into more Maugham stuff.


  2. renxkyoko

    04/12/2012 at 22:56

    Murder by cholera…. hmmm. That’s quite a unique plot. I won’t ask what happens, although I’m a person who wants to be spoiled. I’ll write this down on my list.


    • StetotheJ

      08/12/2012 at 20:01

      Yes lists are good, everyone loves a list. I want to see your list!


  3. letizia

    05/12/2012 at 15:01

    I bought this book in a used bookstore a couple of years ago and, for some inexplicable reason, it has been sitting in my house unread ever since. I think it may have something to do with the tiny type and tiny margins. But I will give it a go (or just buy a better edition!).


    • StetotheJ

      08/12/2012 at 19:44

      I hate sloppily printed editions, in fact I consider it a bit of a travesty, I would like a job checking books for bad printing, I think that would be a pleasure. I left my copy on my shelves for a bit as well, it took time for me to be in the mood, very glad I did read it now.


  4. LuAnn

    07/12/2012 at 03:32

    It appears I am going to be happily ensconced in my chair with great reading material for some time, thanks to you. 🙂


    • StetotheJ

      08/12/2012 at 19:40

      I like to think I read the good books to make your purchasing easier and reading the bad books so you don’t have too. As a public service it is often tempting to privatise myself and then charge you extortionate prices (above inflation) for the privilege, that seems to be what happens in big business.


      • LuAnn

        09/12/2012 at 15:52

        Glad you are not doing that but still would like to think that someday you will be profiting from your wonderful reviews. 🙂


        • StetotheJ

          13/12/2012 at 18:17

          I am going to seek opportunities in the coming year, there will be a lo more writing from me and hopefully a lot more good books read.


  5. Asha Seth

    08/12/2012 at 12:45

    Hi J dear!
    Long time, no see! Hope you are doing good!
    It is always a pleasure to visit here. And today I have a good reason.
    To share an award. To tell you how much I admire your work.

    Now, while I know like you do that I had received these awards by none other than yourself, I still couldn’t stop myself from cramming your blog-space here with the same awards back.

    Its waiting here for you,

    Thanks and Enjoy! Cheers! 🙂



    • StetotheJ

      08/12/2012 at 19:56

      Why thank you very much, I love a bit of reciprocation. It’s always an honour to get awards and at Christmas they double as presents so this pleases me too. High fives all round.


  6. pennycoho

    09/12/2012 at 18:40

    Great review again, I would focus more on the book itself here except I find I am completely hung up on the last sentence in your review today …


    • StetotheJ

      13/12/2012 at 18:24

      Why thank you, it was a disappointing review for me, I could have done better but wasn’t in the mood, although rereading it you have pinpointed the best bit of the whole thing. You have good eyes, ad two of them which is good, not that i am Cyclops-ist or anything like that!



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