Rebecca's Reviews > The Painted Veil

The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham
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Sep 23, 08

bookshelves: british, asian, adult-fiction
Read in September, 2008

** spoiler alert ** I didn't HATE it (as witnessed by the fact I gave it two stars), but what a depressing book! Maybe I've completely missed the point. Perhaps someone more skilled at this era would point out bits of existentialism and stark minimalism that govern these lives... but I don't think that's it.

Maugham's writing style is factual and unembellished. It reminds me a lot of F. Scott Fitzgerald and the Great Gatsby, except that Gatsby was much more interesting and developed. There is no beauty in his writing style (which I'm sure is his effect). Kitty's description of light falling on Mei-tan-fu was almost glorious, but it didn't build... and it didn't last. I had to re-read the paragraph to make sure I wasn't glossing over her epiphany. Thus, without a more developed plot and no beautiful "wordage", I was left with nothing to adore in this book. Only: Life is a miserable existence and you need to learn from it and move on.

Kitty definitely went through an evolution, but she made the path too quickly. She seemed to undergo her struggle almost overnight... I would've like for her to have more conversations with Walter, heated or compassionate, but there was neither.

Just when I thought Kitty, Walter, Waddington or Mother Superior would develop somehow, Maugham cuts it off... or rushes to it. I felt like he wanted to write a shorter story than he had started. There were times when I thought months should have passed... and it was only days.

I wasn't sure which of the characters I wanted to die most.

The allusion to Elegy by Oliver Goldsmith started to make things fun, but Maugham never let the comparisons blossom.

And why didn't Kitty get to experience what was behind that door at the convent? I waited for the moment she would look beyond that door to see the real suffering that was going on in the village, but she never did. She saw only a handful of people (actually three?)who were inflicted with cholera. (Was Maugham meaning to imply the parallels of cholera and love and Kitty was exempt from feeling any of this?)

Maybe Kitty's freedom attained at the end was a witness of hope and not just the wretchedness I felt for her. She DID grow... but she attained inner knowledge so rapidly that I didn't believe it was a real struggle for her.

I can understand why the writing was straightforward. I get the lack of feeling in these relationships. I think I know where Maugham was trying to go, where he was trying to make the reader go. I just felt like I never got there.





P.S. I haven't investigated it properly, but I'm guessing the title refers to a poem by Percy Shelley called "Lift Not the Painted Veil Which Those who Live (call Life)." This may lead to a more interesting discussion, with this poetry as a guide.

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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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Lynn Richter I agree. I expected more. I kind of felt cheated, that I spent the better part of the book working up to what I thought was going to be the best part of book, only for to be cut short.


Rebecca Thanks, Lynn! It's nice to have my reaction validated! :)


message 3: by Charmaine (new)

Charmaine Anderson I think the recent movie was a lot better than the book.


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