Kelly's Reviews > The Painted Veil

The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham
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's review
Feb 11, 08

bookshelves: fiction, brit-lit, 20th-century-early-to-mid, worlds-lost-dead-and-dying
Read in February, 2008

To be honest it was only the last few chapters of this book that really redeemed it for me and pushed it up to three stars from two. Before that, had it not been for a lovely turn of phrase now and then, and the articulate expression of the writing, I really might have thought this done by a /fantastically/ average old fashioned romance novel writer. The story is a quite run-of-the-mill morality tale, one that fills our shelves even more vapidly nowadays in the chick-lit genre. Shallow, frivolous girl learns the error of her ways, grows to appreciate men she thought she couldn't before. Good lord did I hate Kitty Fane for the majority of the novel. I couldn't stop from rolling my eyes again and again at her, everything she "discovered" was so incredibly trite, and sorry Maugham, rather tritely expressed minus out some lovely imagery that was occasionally employed. I can't even make the 'oh, this was published 80 years ago' excuse for it. This plotline has to have been tired by the 1850s. Come /on/, now. I kept reading because I was sure, /sure/, that Maugham would build up to something, that he couldn't let me down after The Razor's Edge. It really took right until the end and only because I can personally relate to Kitty's final realizations, which are very self-actualizing and rather surprisingly feminist in nature. Finally the modernist in Maugham comes out, and he leaves behind his weepy soap opera in favor of some real discussion.

What did keep the novel at least mildly interesting until that point was the secondary character Waddington, who is rather colorful, and the mysterious portrait of Kitty's husband, Walter. I know several men like Walter, so I was really able to sympathize with him. The character drawing of Kitty's despicable lover Charles Townsend just right at the end was very interesting. We all know someone like Townsend. That person who must, /must/ make sure that you love them, and that they appear justified in all they do, however self-interested they are, so they can put themselves on a pedastal and see that everyone else does too. Though I really have to say, there is a good deal of casual racism in this novel towards the Chinese. While some of it is certainly part of characters, some of it appears to come from Maugham. And I swear to God, nobody could have done a more trite portrayal of nuns. If one more author gives a nun a "merry face," I will absolutely scream.

Ahem, overall: meh. I'd really only recommend it to women, and those of a sentimental disposition. It's short enough that some might actually make it to the end.
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Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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message 1: by bryan (new) - added it

bryan Have you seen the movie? It's really damned good.

Kelly I haven't! I wanted to read the book first.

Kelly Oh! Well, we all of us have those hideous piles of books to get through. Mine has as many 'oh dear god, I can't believe I haven't read this' as yours, I'm sure. I haven't read Maugham's big classic 'Of Human Bondage' yet, but I did love The Razor's Edge, and this one is quite good so far as well. So I can recommend both of those to you! (... the Painted Veil assuming it keeps up the quality it has exhibited so far..)

Sonia Reppe Seriously, I wouldn't compare this to chic lit. I agree that there is articulate expression in the writing, and lovely imagery. You say that everything Kitty discovered was incredibly trite, and that you relate to Kitty's final realizations, which are self-actualizing and feminist. So I guess not /everything/ was trite. Sorry I didn't vote that I liked your review because I thought it was fantastic, but in an average way.

message 5: by Kelly (last edited Feb 11, 2008 11:32AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kelly Oh snap, Sonia. Whatever will I do without that vote?

I'm pretty sure I clarified that I disliked Kitty for /most/ of the novel, apart from the end, which redeemed the whole book for me. It's only in that last few chapters that she says anything that I haven't read elsewhere and better. I'm perfectly willing to hear whatever case you'd like to make for the novel, however.

Ally The brand new group - Bright Young Things - is discussing The Painted Veil throughout December. Its the perfect place to discuss your favourite books and authors from the early 20th Century, why not take a look...

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