Customer Reviews for

The Painted Veil

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

The Joys of Entering the Realm of W. Somerset Maugham

Few writers of the past century could evoke a sense of mystery and atmosphere like W. Somerset Maugham. And while almost all readers are familiar with his major works (Of Human Bondage, Up at the Villa, The Razor's Edge, Cakes and Ale etc, the film versions of these hav...
Few writers of the past century could evoke a sense of mystery and atmosphere like W. Somerset Maugham. And while almost all readers are familiar with his major works (Of Human Bondage, Up at the Villa, The Razor's Edge, Cakes and Ale etc, the film versions of these having added to that international knowledge), few have had the pleasure of reading the rather private but equally satisfying 'feminist work', THE PAINTED VEIL. Now with the announcement that this novel, too, is soon to be released as a motion picture, hopefully many will read the book before, remembering how mesmerizingly well how Maugham can spin a tale. As with all of Maugham's novels, the stridency of class plays a role in this work. In a disturbing opening chapter Maugham places us in the room where Kitty is in the midst of seduction by Charlie Townsend and the adulterous couple shudder at the noise that would indicate that Kitty's bacteriologist husband Walter Kane may be spying on them. The intrigue is set and then the novel retraces the territory that placed the couple en flagrante in the middle of the incipient scandal that will alter the lives of all concerned. Kitty, the elder daughter of a fussy couple in London who had 'shamed' Kitty into finding a husband when Kitty's younger, unattractive sister is engaged, hurriedly marries the shy but solid Walter Kane who is about to be shipped off to Hong Kong. Once into Hong Kong Kitty's sensually hungry eye is met by the handsome but married with three children Colonial Secretary Charlie Townsend and they begin a torrid affair. When Walter discovers his wife's adultery he threatens to divorce her (thereby making public the scandal that would ruin Charlie's career) if she doesn't accompany him to Mei-tan-fu, China where a cholera epidemic is destroying the town. The situation finds Kitty struggling with her disdain for Walter whom she never has loved and eventual loathing for Charlie who proves to be the cad he is by putting his career and marriage over the 'silly thought' of running away with Kitty! Distraught, Kitty joins Walter on the trek to Mei-tan-fu where she gradually adjusts to the situation with the help of the consul Waddington who encourages her to fill her hours with helping the nuns care for the sick and the orphaned children. Kitty's life begins to change as she sees the manner in which Walter is focused on mankind, enhanced by the admiration he gains from the nuns. She discovers she is pregnant (whether by Walter or Charlie she does not know) but soon all attention shifts when Walter succumbs to cholera and Kitty, wanting to stay with the nuns who have helped her see that life does have meaning), returns to Hong Kong, has one last distasteful experience with Charlie whose wife has become the solid friend Kitty has always needed, and sets off for England. Once in Europe she receives a telegram that her mother has died and she returns to London to be with her sister and her distant father. Circumstances alter and Kitty finally finds in her lonely father the need to be loved and pledges to join him as he moves from London to a colonial position, awaiting the birth of a daughter who will be given all the love and training of equality Kitty has never known. Aside from Maugham's gift in creating characters so real we can visualize them, make them part of our reading lives, he also had the gift of descriptive writing about strange places that is as fine as any writer of his day. 'The morning drew on and the sun touched the mist so that it shone whitely like the ghost of snow on a dying star'. In describing the destination in China 'Mei-tan-fu with its crenellated walls was like the painted canvas placed on the stage in an old play to represent a city. The nuns, Waddington, and the Manchu woman who loved him, were fantastic characters in a masque and the rest, the people sidling along the tortuous streets and those who died, were nameless supers.' The novel is full of these absorbing pictures.

posted by Anonymous on November 12, 2006

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Most Helpful Critical Review

1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

Surprising thriller

Kept me interested and absorbed to the end. There were some surprises and "twists" in the plot.

posted by 1473718 on June 15, 2009

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 12, 2006

    The Joys of Entering the Realm of W. Somerset Maugham

    Few writers of the past century could evoke a sense of mystery and atmosphere like W. Somerset Maugham. And while almost all readers are familiar with his major works (Of Human Bondage, Up at the Villa, The Razor's Edge, Cakes and Ale etc, the film versions of these having added to that international knowledge), few have had the pleasure of reading the rather private but equally satisfying 'feminist work', THE PAINTED VEIL. Now with the announcement that this novel, too, is soon to be released as a motion picture, hopefully many will read the book before, remembering how mesmerizingly well how Maugham can spin a tale. As with all of Maugham's novels, the stridency of class plays a role in this work. In a disturbing opening chapter Maugham places us in the room where Kitty is in the midst of seduction by Charlie Townsend and the adulterous couple shudder at the noise that would indicate that Kitty's bacteriologist husband Walter Kane may be spying on them. The intrigue is set and then the novel retraces the territory that placed the couple en flagrante in the middle of the incipient scandal that will alter the lives of all concerned. Kitty, the elder daughter of a fussy couple in London who had 'shamed' Kitty into finding a husband when Kitty's younger, unattractive sister is engaged, hurriedly marries the shy but solid Walter Kane who is about to be shipped off to Hong Kong. Once into Hong Kong Kitty's sensually hungry eye is met by the handsome but married with three children Colonial Secretary Charlie Townsend and they begin a torrid affair. When Walter discovers his wife's adultery he threatens to divorce her (thereby making public the scandal that would ruin Charlie's career) if she doesn't accompany him to Mei-tan-fu, China where a cholera epidemic is destroying the town. The situation finds Kitty struggling with her disdain for Walter whom she never has loved and eventual loathing for Charlie who proves to be the cad he is by putting his career and marriage over the 'silly thought' of running away with Kitty! Distraught, Kitty joins Walter on the trek to Mei-tan-fu where she gradually adjusts to the situation with the help of the consul Waddington who encourages her to fill her hours with helping the nuns care for the sick and the orphaned children. Kitty's life begins to change as she sees the manner in which Walter is focused on mankind, enhanced by the admiration he gains from the nuns. She discovers she is pregnant (whether by Walter or Charlie she does not know) but soon all attention shifts when Walter succumbs to cholera and Kitty, wanting to stay with the nuns who have helped her see that life does have meaning), returns to Hong Kong, has one last distasteful experience with Charlie whose wife has become the solid friend Kitty has always needed, and sets off for England. Once in Europe she receives a telegram that her mother has died and she returns to London to be with her sister and her distant father. Circumstances alter and Kitty finally finds in her lonely father the need to be loved and pledges to join him as he moves from London to a colonial position, awaiting the birth of a daughter who will be given all the love and training of equality Kitty has never known. Aside from Maugham's gift in creating characters so real we can visualize them, make them part of our reading lives, he also had the gift of descriptive writing about strange places that is as fine as any writer of his day. 'The morning drew on and the sun touched the mist so that it shone whitely like the ghost of snow on a dying star'. In describing the destination in China 'Mei-tan-fu with its crenellated walls was like the painted canvas placed on the stage in an old play to represent a city. The nuns, Waddington, and the Manchu woman who loved him, were fantastic characters in a masque and the rest, the people sidling along the tortuous streets and those who died, were nameless supers.' The novel is full of these absorbing pictures.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 20, 2009

    A Sad Tale

    The Painted Veil is a tragic tale of unrequited love in marriage. The main character, Kitty, is a selfish, vain woman with very few redeeming qualities. This book is not a light read. If you enjoy classic literature along the lines of Wuthering Heights, you'll probably enjoy The Painted Veil. It certainly keeps you thinking long after it's done.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 15, 2009

    Surprising thriller

    Kept me interested and absorbed to the end. There were some surprises and "twists" in the plot.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 27, 2009

    Worth the read!

    Had seen the movie and then stumbled upon the book at the bookstore. Was pleased to find that the movie had stayed fairly close to the story although the movie played up the romance between Kitty and her husband more than the book. I found the book hard to put down!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 20, 2009

    GREAT CHOICE FOR BOOK CLUBS

    Everyone in my book club liked this book. This book is short--fewer than 300 pages--but it is a well-developed story with strong characters, lots of irony, and a satisfying conclusion, even though it wasn't a "happily ever after" ending.

    If you've seen the movie and liked it, you'll like the book, too. There are some significant differences between the book and movie. The characters in the book are more well-developed and honestly portrayed than in the movie. The movie's ending, too, was more forgiving than in the book.

    This book is a good choice for someone who has never read Maugham.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 10, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    An Unsuspecting and Poignant Read

    I became interested in this novel after watching the film version of the story staring Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, and Liev Shrieber. The movie was fanatatic, so I picked up the book. The story lines match closely, alhtough they have different endings. The plot is often melancholy, maintaining a disheartening yet hopeful attitude. The characters are human and the events are ones that were ordinary for life in the British Empire, its colonies, and China in the early 20th century. It's easy to read with short, engaging chapters. You won't want to put it down.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 7, 2013

    The author was a story teller but they didnot always end the way movies do!

    I saw an old bw movie but not a newer one but would think that he tried to kill her are you sure he died in new movie and not her or am i thinking of rains of rampour dated but a good read abd no longer in print except on nook

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 19, 2013

    I saw the movie first and chose to read the book afterwards to s

    I saw the movie first and chose to read the book afterwards to see what I missed. I'm sorry I did. The first third of the book is very well-written and follows closely to the movie. I felt it gave me additional understanding of the characters' motivations. After that it went downhill. Kitty Fane never really becomes likable or sympathetic. If you enjoyed the movie because of its portrayal of a husband and wife who grow to care about and appreciate one another after making mistakes, you will not find that here. That was a screenwriter who rewrote the story to make it beautiful and haunting with a satisfying ending instead of the book ending which left me feeling hollow. If you loved the movie, think twice about reading the book.

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  • Posted June 21, 2013

    Great book!

    I loved this story and his beautiful descriptions.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2013

    Fantastic

    This book is the best romance book you can ever read. You
    will become angry sad and evan delighted. This book takes you through the hard concepts of love

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 8, 2012

    Touching..

    A touching story about the lies one tells and harsh reality of finding out who someone really is. Very good.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2012

    A favorite

    This book is one of my favorites and although it was written many years ago it still grips the reader and makes this book hard to put down.

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  • Posted November 30, 2011

    The Painted Veil

    I enjoyed the book but didn't like the ending. It seems like things started going down hill after Walter dies. Kitty is a difficult person to sympathize with. She started out as an overindulged youth and then turns into a heartless wife. There were times, after finding out about the affair, when she says that Walter is evil. Even after realizing she was duped by her lover, she thinks that Walter wants to kill her by taking her into the cholera epidemic. In reality he saved her reputation. She didn't make amends with him until he was on his death bed. Even though she was awful to him, I was secretly hoping that Kitty would fall in love with Walter and things would work out.

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  • Posted October 18, 2011

    I highly recomend this book!

    I love this book! A very Good Read!

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  • Posted February 14, 2011

    Amazing! Highly Recommended!!

    I, like many others, saw the movie first (I am a huge Edward Norton fan!). I have come to learn that when I see a movie first that when I pick up the book I have to look at the book as it is completely separate from the movie, and infact is not tied to the movie at all - this is the only way I am able to give a book a fighting chance. That being said, I loved this book (and the movie too). It was actually nice to envision the actors from the movie, in terms of physical looks, while reading the book.

    Kitty is spoiled rotten, having a life of great privileged. Kitty also prides herself as being very independent, especially from her mother's 'demands' and 'disappointments' that she is not married yet. To get away from her 'overbearing' mother (at least overbearing in Kitty's opinion) she marries Walter Fane, who she does not love and barely likes. Upon their marriage they move straight to China as Walter's work as a scientist is. Bored in China, Kitty meets Charles Townsend, a politician; soon they start a torid love affair! Despite Kitty's new found happiness, Walter finds out. In an attempt to tear Kitty away from Charles Townsend, he uproots them to the center of a Cholera epidemic. Bitter against Walter, Kitty finds her new life unbearable. However, in time she is able to see another side of Walter as he works to save the town's infested water supply and many lives.

    I would not say that this is a book about a love affair (as Kitty and Charles Townsend have), but more of self discover, as Kitty finds who she is and what she is capable of bearing. All the characters are very well written. I loved and hated Kitty all at the same time; I felt sorry for Walter; and I hated and like Charles Townsend. The plot unfolds expectantly, as W. Somerset Maugham makes you as in the end: "What and who is really important to us and in life?" You come away from this book with a better understanding of why humans do the things they do. I walked away from this book satisfied as it did not end in the typical way that most books do. There is a happy ending, but at the same time there is not a happy ending; something this book shows both sides of very well.

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  • Posted April 8, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Unmasking the Veil of Life

    A moving story, which Maugham in his introduction tells us is based on Dante's "Purgatorio". Pia is imprisoned in her husband's castle; he intends to do away with her by means of the noxious vapors therein, as a result of his suspicion of Pia's involvement in an intrigue. His impatience with the length of this method leads have Pia thrown out of a window instead. Late in the novel, the last words of a key character give us insight into another literary work which inspired Maugham in creating this story. These words happen to be the last words of Oliver Goldsmith's, "An Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog".

    "Good people all, of every sort,
    Give ear unto my song;
    And if you find it wondrous short,
    It cannot hold you long.

    "In Islington there was a man,
    Of whom the world might say
    That still a godly race he ran,
    Whene'er he went to pray.

    "A kind and gentle heart he had,
    To comfort friends and foes;
    The naked every day he clad,
    When he put on his clothes.

    "And in that town a dog was found,
    As many dogs there be,
    Both mongrel, puppy, whelp and hound,
    And curs of low degree.

    "This dog and man at first were friends;
    But when a pique began,
    The dog, to gain some private ends,
    Went mad and bit the man.

    "Around from all the neighbouring streets
    The wondering neighbours ran,
    And swore the dog had lost his wits,
    To bite so good a man.

    "The wound it seemed both sore and sad
    To every Christian eye;
    And while they swore the dog was mad,
    They swore the man would die.

    "But soon a wonder came to light,
    That showed the rogues they lied:
    The man recovered of the bite,
    The dog it was that died."

    So too in this fine novel -- the biter dies, rather than the bitten. A great read!

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  • Posted December 27, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Beautifully written

    Loved this book....will have to read more of his books.... great love story

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 16, 2008

    I Also Recommend:

    The Painted Veil

    This book was very well written I really enjoyed it.The ending of the book is very different from the movie I actually liked the ending in the movie better but I thought the book was still wonderful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 6, 2007

    BREATHTAKING

    The language of The Painted Veil, like that of The Great Gatsby, is clear and easy to understand, yet beautiful and flowing. The dialogues and narratives are heart-breakingly honest and sad. Their truths and simplicity touch you. Also like The Great Gatsby, a beautiful yet empty-headed woman'Kitty' leaves the man that loves her consumingly 'Walter' for a man who barely loves her at all 'Charlie'. The highlight of The Painted Veil is the journey Kitty goes through to find herself, and the transformation that terrible occurrances force her to undergo. This is a beautiful story, and has one of the truest descriptions of love I have found in literature. It portrays the fact that, above all, love is hopeless and beyond reason. Highly Recommended.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2007

    A Beautifully Written Novel

    I now understand why Somerset Maughn's writing is so highly touted. This novel is beautiful. lush and moving. It is a classic story with rich, well built characters. This is on my list of best novels and I am eager to read 'Of Human Bondage.'

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