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Christmas Holiday
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Group Reads Archive > December 2012- Christmas Holiday by W. Somerset Maugham

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message 1: by Jennifer W (new)

Jennifer W | 1001 comments Mod
Welcome to our December fiction group read of Christmas Holiday by W. Somerset Maugham.


Ally (goodreadscomuser_allhug) | 1653 comments Mod
...what a horror Simon is! - I hope he gets nicer as the story unfolds.

message 3: by Val (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val | 833 comments Simon is fanatical and sinister, the sort of character you only want to meet between the pages of a book. I did wonder how they ever became such close friends.

Susan | 774 comments Absolutely loved re-reading this. It was interesting to remember before the war how possible both fascism and communism were in Europe at that time - either could have become the dominant political force. Also, whatever Simon thought of Charley's parents, Venetia had Simon's personality in a second, didn't she?

message 5: by Val (last edited Dec 22, 2012 12:31PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val | 833 comments Yes, she is very perceptive in that instance, although Charlie is shown as a complete innocent with a sense of decency.

I think the political situation in Europe at the time is very important in the background. A lot of political observers already saw war as inevitable by then and the Spanish Civil War was already happening (although Maugham doesn't actually mention it, unless I am remembering incorrectly).
Simon doesn't seem to see much difference between fascism and communism: he spouts communist doctrine and wants to be the head of their secret police but thinks the fascist regimes in Germany and Italy are 'alright'. Is he saying that a totalitarian regime is a totalitarian regime, whatever ideology it claims to support? Simon is much too fond of totalitarianism, but I don't think we are intended to agree with him.

Susan | 774 comments I agree, Simon is simply representative of extreme political views - left and right - although he admires communism. He obviously just wants power for powers sake if he were honest. Charley is very innocent, but his sadness about Simon is tempered by a real sense of "what nonsense", which makes Simon more sympathetic than he deserves.

Ally (goodreadscomuser_allhug) | 1653 comments Mod
I'm about two thirds of the way through and am currently really enthralled by Lydia's story - it's very clever of Maugham as, essentially, he is putting his reader in Charley's position...we almost take on Charley's awed fascination.

Its interesting that at this point in the story the situation in Europe is not particularly prominent. At the moment you're pretty wrapped up in Charley, Simon and Lydia as individuals. Perhaps even stereotypes? Charley as sheltered innocence, Simon as detached self agrandising arrogance, Lydia as being tossed about by a cruel world and essentially a picture of lost innocence etc.

Ally (goodreadscomuser_allhug) | 1653 comments Mod
I finished this last night. I really enjoyed it but there are some niggles for me so it's only a 4 star read for me rather than a full 5 star triumph.

To me it wasn't as 'joined up' a story as I'd like but I suppose that is down to the allegory style employed by Maugham.

Ally (goodreadscomuser_allhug) | 1653 comments Mod
Some reading questions...

1) It's said that Maugham wrote this novel to open the eyes of his readers to the worsening situation in Europe. Does this book achieve that aim?

2) What is it exactly that has made the bottom fall out of Charley's world?

3) Lydia is a complex character and her reasoning for the things she does is sometimes illogical. What did you understand of her motives towards Berger? What was the importance of her relationship with Charley? and what did you make of her insights into Simon's character?

message 10: by Janis (new) - added it

Janis (paintability) | 21 comments Will be starting this very soon...

message 11: by Shelley (new)

Shelley | 30 comments There always seems to be such an undertow of melancholy in Maugham, even when it's not on the surface....

Shelley, Rain: A Dust Bowl Story

message 12: by Val (last edited Dec 15, 2012 04:40AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val | 833 comments Good questions Ally.
1) I think we can look back and know that the situation was worsening in Europe and then see the warning in the novel, but it would depend on how aware people were already at the time to see that warning without hindsight, as there isn't much of an explicit warning. There is a lot of discussion of politics, but it is nearly all theoretical.

2) Charley and his parents are comfortable in their assumptions. They are liberal, but only if it doesn't upset the status quo. Charley's experiences in Paris cause him to see that the world is not how he had assumed and is no longer comfortable in his cocoon.

3) Lydia knows more about the seamier, more squalid things in life, so in a way is more aware than Charley. She explains her reasons for behaving the way she does in some detail, but they do still seem illogical. Charley is decent and gentlemanly, which she appreciates, but she is also taking advantage of his niceness and decency. I don't see her as quite so much of a victim as Charley seems to. (It is difficult to discuss Berger without giving too many spoilers, so I might come back to him when more people have read the book.)

Lydia and Simon both put themselves through a lot of unnecessary suffering don't they? It contrasts with the Mason family's comfortable way of life, in both their material wealth and their cosy assumptions, but also in the way they are close to each other.

Nigeyb I've deliberately only skimmed through the contributions so far, as I'm only 50 or so pages in. I am loving it though. Maugham is a beguilingly simple writer - I mean in terms of his style, so readable, such economy of style, and yet still packs a real punch.

Simon is a wonderful character. Very sinister and, I'm guessing, a cypher for the rise of the extreme and destructive ideologies of the era - communism and fascism. His character would only really make sense in that momentous pre-WW2 period.

I hope the book continues in the same vein - if so it'll be a most excellent choice - and one that I will have been very happy to read. More soon. And thanks to whoever nominated it.

message 14: by Ally (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ally (goodreadscomuser_allhug) | 1653 comments Mod
I love Maugham's style's almost like satire or at least tongue in cheek. There's a good 'edge' to it but like you say, it's really simple and easy to read. There's certainly always a 'message' within his prose, sometimes subtle and sometimes really glaring.

message 15: by Val (last edited Dec 15, 2012 04:36AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val | 833 comments Some of it is tongue in cheek, such as the descriptions of Charley's parents getting away from the English tourists in little hotels and restaurants they have discovered, which are actually full of other English tourists. Maugham lived in France for many years, so must have seen a few people doing that and had a chuckle at it.
His satire is very gentle compared to some other English authors of the time.
There is usually an edge, a message he is putting across, but he doesn't over state it and write a polemic.

Elizabeth Moffat | 27 comments Hi everyone, this is the first book I have read of Maugham's and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I found myself completely wrapped up in Lydia's story, championing the wonderful character that is Charley, and frowning in confusion over Simon! I agree with Val that Charley has had his eyes opened to what the world is really like.

message 17: by Ally (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ally (goodreadscomuser_allhug) | 1653 comments Mod
I'm glad you enjoyed it should try more of Maugham, I haven't read anything of his that I didn't like.

Lydia was a really great character, I could never quite work her out! - In lots of ways I see her as a bit of a loner and can see why Berger captured her heart - he took his time over her and showed her his nicer softer side. I think it's her relationship with Berger...or at least her 'telling' of her relationship with Berger that rounds him out as a character (...I could never quite disklike him for all the horrible things we heard about him). Maybe that's the Christmas Message, that it's love that makes us.

message 18: by Val (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val | 833 comments How serious do you think Berger is about going straight once he gets married?
His mother thinks (or hopes) he will, but he doesn't really try all that hard. He is another complex character, sweet natured and loving, but an amoral criminal. I think it is both interesting and chilling that he does it mainly for the fun of risk taking, rather than for financial gain. Lydia doesn't like Simon's article, but he does seem to have captured Berger's character accurately. I think we are supposed to see both Lydia's tale of their marriage and Simon's very clever article and reconstruction as 'true', but then we don't get to hear from Berger himself.

Elizabeth Moffat | 27 comments I agree with Val that Berger is such a complex character. I think he does love Lydia in his own way, but it is interesting when she thinks that he no longer does love her. It is also funny that she takes a dislike to Simon when he has not actually committed a crime compared to her criminal husband?!

Nigeyb Doesn't Lydia concede that Berger will probably stop loving him no matter what - and yet she still feels compelled to atone for his sins. If you want to talk about a complex character then look no further than Lydia.

I finished this a couple of days ago but this is my first chance to get to a computer...

A clever, readable and entertaining book. Deceptively simple. W Somerset Maugham uses the contrasting personalities of Charley and Simon to highlight some of the profound and disturbing changes taking place in mainland Europe during the late 1930s (when he wrote the story). W Somerset Maugham was remarkably prescient about the horrors and inhumanity that was about to unfold. And, despite this, the book is very readable - giving the reader insights into Russian refugees living in Paris, convicts, and a lower middle class French family adapting to the death of the father during World War One. The characters of Simon and Robert Berger are particularly interesting and well drawn, and Lydia makes an enigmatic, complex cypher for the book's more philosophical points.

This is only my second book by W Somerset Maugham. The first was Ashenden. Both share the same qualities: beguiling, well written, insightful, intriguing, informative, entertaining, and quietly profound.

message 21: by Nigeyb (last edited Dec 27, 2012 11:40AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Nigeyb Back to the (excellent) questions posed by Ally:

1) It's said that Maugham wrote this novel to open the eyes of his readers to the worsening situation in Europe. Does this book achieve that aim?

The book is perhaps too subtle to achieve that aim. I'd say it is a gentle reminder that whilst many in England were unaffected by events elsewhere in Europe there were plenty of people suffering and having their lives ruined. That said there were plenty in the Uk who were also suffering - I'm thinking of the stories so vividly told in Love In The Dole etc.

2) What is it exactly that has made the bottom fall out of Charley's world?

The realisation that his life whilst comfortable is also rather one dimensional and also that he has completely swallowed his parents' views and bourgeoisie sensibilities.

3) Lydia is a complex character and her reasoning for the things she does is sometimes illogical. What did you understand of her motives towards Berger? What was the importance of her relationship with Charley? and what did you make of her insights into Simon's character?

Lydia is very astute about other people, specifically Simon and Charley - and can see them for who they are. Her relationship with Berger is harder to fathom. Clearly he is one of the few people to show her kindness and consideration - but perhaps more significantly he is so unusual and exceptional that he is one of the few many worthy of her love and commitment.

message 22: by Ally (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ally (goodreadscomuser_allhug) | 1653 comments Mod
I was thinking that Lydia's relationship with Berger was used by Maugham to highlight the idea that labels are inadequate at best and can be quite detrimental. I think this reading is particularly pertinent when you consider Simon's reportage of Bergers character for his newspaper articles...he deliberately chose a sensationalist portrayal, something to entertain and capture the mood of the people. He's able to manipulate an audience and influence what people think of Berger.

Nigeyb Now this was a marvellous Christmas BYT fiction read. Perhaps we should try for something similar in December 2013?

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