F.R.'s Reviews > Cakes and Ale

Cakes and Ale by W. Somerset Maugham
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Feb 17, 15


I was given this book by a girl I dated a couple of times last year. On our second meeting she brought it along and dropped it into my lap with a casual “I think you’ll like this”. It was a bit of a surprise, as I don’t recall us having any particularly literary conversation the first time we met – and I’m certain that we never discussed Somerset Maugham. Nothing lasting developed between myself and this young lady, but I am thinking of getting in touch with her again to thank her once more – as her judgement has proved very much correct.

This is sharp and clever examination of literary reputations and the critics, poseurs and other interested parties who fuel them. Our narrator is asked for his reminiscences of a great author – Edward Driffield – who the narrator had met while he was a young boy and Driffield was a struggling writer. Since his death Driffield has been hailed by polite literary society as lion, a man whose work reflects impeccable taste of the world around him. But the figure our narrator remembers is a more roguish and wilder character; and besides he has stronger memories of Driffield’s wife – a former barmaid – who history dismisses as vulgar and of no importance, but is clearly one of the loveliest women our narrator has ever met.

For those with a yen for a particularly literary read, which is interested in authors and the world around them then ‘Cakes and Ale’ is highly recommended. It brought to mind both Gissing’s ‘New Grub Street’ and Byatt’s ‘Possession’; and in its depiction of literary life and of the way a reputation is shaped and preserved, it can perhaps be seen as the missing link between them.
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