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The Painted Veil

Average Rating 4
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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 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 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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    Posted October 3, 2009

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