Jose's Reviews > Moon and Sixpence

Moon and Sixpence by W. Somerset Maugham
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Jan 28, 11

Read in January, 2011

I was very pleasantly surprised by this book. I found it for 50 cents in a library sale and had no idea it dealt with art and the artistic temperament. It is a fictional account of the life of Paul Gaugin, the stock broker turned post-impressionist painter that brought us the lore of French Polynesia in his famously colorful canvases. Gaugin is transformed By Maugham into a Mr. Strickland, an English man that starts out as a respectable and well-to-do family man in his forties but is shaken by the mid-life crisis to end all mid-life crisis: he decides to abandon family, children and all traces of moral judgment and move to Paris to pursue his dream of beauty.
What is most interesting about this book is the way it explores very strained but human relationships.It feels almost like a launching pad for the attitudes and morals of the latest part of the twentieth century. The author delights in showing us the fatal attraction the genius exercises over people that normally would stir clear considering his acerbic and selfish character. He cares not, begs nothing and is grateful to nobody, in short, a peach. The demands of his demon (the pursuit of beauty) are so all-encompassing and demanding, the man has no consideration other than to create, even beyond comfort and health. This is the final conclusion of the romantic ideal of genius; " a man is not what it wants to be, but what it must be."
Yearning for a simple life with no conventions, Strickland ends up in Tahiti where he marries a native girl and indulges his unbridled need to create, bothered only by his own sexual appetites and bare necessities until his tragic final days.
Somerset Maugham writes phenomenally well. He creates a gentle rhythm and beautifully constructed phrases. The only problem might be that it feels a bit aged in that, today, human relations and notions of respectability, class and artistic merit are so changed as to be unrecognizable from the ones in the book.
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