Book Review: On the style of Somerset Maugham

For Book Club Meeting: Saturday, 29th January 2011.
Venue: Ms. Madhavi Murthy’s residence. Time: 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm

It seems a long, long time ago, I read some of Somerset Maugham’s books; and now with Book Club giving all of us the opportunity to describe in our individual capacities, the style of the writer: the exercise attracts me with a freshly bound appetite to go choosing his books – which are not quite easily available. Only a very stingy amount of Maugham’s work is there for us to pick out from the book stores of Dubai. May be, that’s happening in other parts of the world. Are we to conclude that the popular writers of yesteryears are swinging between forgotten and vanishing!

Somerset Maugham (1874–1965) is to me a very special one whose books refreshed me and relaxed me till the end. The clear impressions I carry about the author’s style is that there is nothing to stop you enjoying the company of his characters, or the plot he weaves around them. As a chronicler, he is brilliant – so be it The Moon and Sixpence, (based on the life of Paul Gaugin, the painter) living in the Pacific or Maugham’s descriptions of China or India, they are achieving a magnetic interest among his readers, I am quite sure. Maugham, through his travels had the natural knack of turning them into novels and short stories of great fascination.

As is with all writers of solidity, Maugham can mould his readers to feel like his own characters he depicts in his books. I saw in myself Elliott Templeton, Isabel, Larry Darrell (from Razor’s Edge) and even Maugham himself in many parts as me!

Maugham’s own life had a share of turbulence (none of us too escape that in some form or the other). In his case, the unhappy adjustments with his uncompromising uncle and the school, brought out the talent in the young lad to find appropriate phrases which could fix his tormentors. He was hugely devasted by the loss of both his parents; and to add to it, at a time when homosexuality was considered a criminal offense, Maugham had a sexual affair with a man ten years senior to him. All of this must have ignited ripples of expressions in his mind-stream to come in handy for his future books. His homosexual leanings definitely took forms in his creative work. Don Fernando is an example where the sexual abnormality is announced in El Greco’s – the Spanish painters paintings: possessing streaks of bizarre fantasies. In an individual way, Maugham was very much aware of the “flaw” (being a homosexual). All the more by recognizing the “flaw” in himself, Maugham became unusually tolerant to others’ defects in their dispositions.

Lady Fortune showered ample upon Maugham; he was honoured and praised frequently by literary societies and fans. Financially, he turned out to be a very rich writer. Yet, he took a humble view of himself. I hold Maugham in my mind as a purposeful all rounder – be it for his collected short stories, novels or travel-writing. The simplicity in his style administers in us to instantly capture and check human nature – the whole of human nature, as each of us make our individual journeys. His written thoughts also reflect the fact that no one in this world can lead a life free of fear or worry.

Geeta Chhabra

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