Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham

Kitty marries Walter Fane more out of a need to be wed before her dull and unattractive sister than from any great idealist love for the rather dour bacteriologist. When they journey to Hong Kong, Kitty rather quickly falls into an affair with a well to-do politician, Charles Townsend. Walter learns of the affair and offers her an ultimatum: travel with him to work in a cholera-ravaged village or he will pursue the public scandal of divorcing her for adultery.

When things with Townsend don’t go as she’d planned, Kitty is forced to travel with her husband to the afflicted village. Dealing with the specter of death and her husband’s cold disdain lead Kitty to many realizations about herself and her life.

My bookgroup at work is reading fiction set in an Asian country so I was thrilled with reading The Painted Veil because I loved, loved, loved the movie! Since the book is usually better than the movie, I picked it up with much anticipation. Just to top things off, the audiobook has a fantastic narrator!

Neither the book nor the movie has what I’d call a happy ending, but the movie ends on a much more positive note. I think, possibly, the book ends more realistically. TPV was published in the mid-1920’s so it has a sort of Great Gatsby feel to it, especially as Kitty relates her upbringing and how she came to marry Walter.

I waffled back and forth between liking and hating all of the characters at one time or another and I count that as a serious point in Maugham’s favor; to be able to make the characters so real and malleable. A spoiled, yet redeemable woman, an irreverent playboy, a rigidly reserved and complex man…such is the stuff of which good drama is made! I love this book and look forward to a re-read. I did listen to it but I do own a paperback copy as well and it is one classic I’ll be holding on to for future enjoyment.

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