Monday, June 10, 2013

Book Review: The Painted Veil

The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham

Summary (Courtesy of Goodreads): Set in England and Hong Kong in the 1920s, The Painted Veil is the story of the beautiful but love-starved Kitty Fane. When her husband discovers her adulterous affair, he forces her to accompany him to the heart of a cholera epidemic. Stripped of the British society of her youth and the small but effective society she fought so hard to attain in Hong Kong, she is compelled by her awakening conscience to reassess her life and learn how to love.

Oh, what is there to say about this book? I wanted to like it so much more than I did. It was beautifully written, the characters were fantastically developed, and who doesn't love a good tragedy?

When the tragedy is self-inflicted, however, I seem to have a hard time really liking it.

Kitty was my problem, really. I will hand it to Maugham, he did a stellar job describing Kitty and really developing her in powerful ways, but it doesn't change the fact that if I knew Kitty in real life, I would've despised her. She was so shallow and silly, and so stupid. And even after going through her whole growing experience with the cholera epidemic, she was still unable to be strong enough to resist Charlie Townsend at the end. During her whole "pity me" speech to her father in the last scene, I just wanted to shout at her, "You brought this on yourself! You made the choice to marry a man you didn't love, you made the choice to have an affair! You made all these bad choices, don't be surprised that your life is miserable!"

Walter, on the other hand, I couldn't make up my mind about. I really quite liked him at first, even though I could not understand why such an intelligent man would ever fall in love with Kitty. Maybe I'm not much of a romantic, but I kind of think you do have some choice over who you fall madly in love with, and Walter should've known from the beginning it was just never going to work with this silly little girl. But I did find his disgust with himself for loving her to be quite tragic. Still, I wish he would've been strong enough to just forgive Kitty and move on, instead of gambling her life and his (a gamble he lost) in the cholera epidemic just because he was angry and brokenhearted. Maybe I don't understand broken hearts? I was just so baffled by the illogical way these people handled their lives, and it frustrated me.

So what I'm saying is that this is a beautifully written book about deeply flawed people who make terrible decisions and ruin their lives. Some people may find this kind of tragedy edifying, but I think you're safe if you skip it.

No comments:

Post a Comment