Saturday, January 16, 2010

3. OF HUMAN BONDAGE - W. Somerset Maugham


I owe an apology to the readers of this blog. You have recommended this book for years, and I have ignored your advice. Thank Thor that I have agreed to read according to your whims this year because, if you keep sending me to places like those found in Of Human Bondage, I shall have a delightful year.

This "semi-autobiographical fiction" tome begins with the childhood of Philip Carey, an orphaned, sensitive lad whose clubfoot and reliance on the charity of distant relatives causes every chaff or whistle to feel like sandpaper against his fragile soul.

The reader watches Philip's ventures through life, from a student in Germany to art school in Paris, then back to London for medical school. Throughout it all, his views on love, politics, religion, and beauty meld and waver. It is as if watching yourself repeat high school through an ancient, bubbled window.

However, it is his love/hate relationship with Mildred that causes the most pain and passion in his life. Maeve Binchy, whose writing I adore, wrote it best when she stated that she wanted to send an anonymous letter to this character to warn him of Mildred's evil intentions. This character is the symbol of all: the hope and luster of youth, the despair of broken dreams, and the realization of the self.

Knowing that this book was published in 1915 makes the stories and messages even more astounding. The only subject that is not referred to is homosexuality, which I found surprising considering Maughan was "a raging homosexual," according to his biography by Ted Morgan. But to think of others reading about premarital sex, prostitution, strippers, or atheism must have been shocking at the time.

Perhaps because I could identify with his journey in religious thought or his ability to find beauty in the most common of situations (the charm of an impoverished couple who were delighted that he - a "gentleman" - shared dinner with them), I relished every word. Now, I wish there was a sequel. Tell me, dear Philip, what I will experience in the next decades of my life! You have plainly read my thoughts on the past two decades; please tell me more.

4.75 out of 5.0 Pusser's Pain Killers.

14 comments:

Abs said...

Finally! I'm glad you enjoyed it:)

mee said...

I just read an amazing novel by Ha Jin called Waiting. I'm recommending it to you now. Hope you get to read it. Would love to know what you think about it :)

Connie said...

I literally picked this up today in the bookstore and then put it down. Now it sounds like I'll have to pick it up again. :)

Susan said...

I liked the book as well. Have you read "The Painted Veil"? It's also by W. Somerset Maugham.

Maggie May said...

i am putting it on my list. thanks!

i just read 'everything will be all right' and recommend it!

Jinx said...

Oh I'm so glad you read and enjoyed it! I had a HUGE Somerset Maugham summer two years ago and bought and read everything I could get my hands on.
As a matter of fact, this weekend, I found two of his early novels hiding in a second hand bookshop in Galveston.

Great review!

Kristin Dodge said...

Excellent... thank you for the recommendations! Are there other works besides "Painted Veil" that are good? I just cannot believe that I didn't read his work before, so I am very grateful to the many of you who repeatedly told me to add "Of Human Bondage" to the *top* of my list.

Jinx said...

I think Razor's Edge is my favorite of his books.
I read several of his short stories but can't think of the names of them.
I have Moon and Sixpence on my iPhone and I read it when I'm having a book emergency (long lines, long waits, etc).

Jinx said...

Oh! I knew I was forgetting one...Up at the Villa was very good, as well.

美麗之城 said...

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Stefania said...

I also want to try something by Somerset Maugham. I found "Up at the Villa" today at my local library (incredible!), but in the end I didn't borrow it. I was thinking of reading something he wrote while he was traveling in Asia...

illahee said...

I started it today. If you haven't read Virginia Woolf yet, you might consider "To the Lighthouse."

Stefania said...

@Kristin: There's a book I'd like to suggest, but they told me it's difficult to find in English. It's called Balun Canan in Spanish and it's by Rosario Castellanos. The English translation is "The Nine Guardians".

Kristin Dodge said...

Illahee... thank you for your recommendations (both of them). I have read "The Lighthouse," though it may have been before the blog was born.

Stefania... I am looking for that book!