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Cakes and Ale Paperback – December 5, 2000

4.1 out of 5 stars 51 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"[Maugham] is a master for creating the appetite for information, of withholding it until the right moment, and then providing it surprisingly."  --Evelyn Waugh

"Maugham is a catty delight." --The Boston Globe

From the Inside Flap

Cakes and Ale is a delicious satire of London literary society between the Wars. Social climber Alroy Kear is flattered when he is selected by Edward Driffield's wife to pen the official biography of her lionized novelist husband, and determined to write a bestseller. But then Kear discovers the great novelist's voluptuous muse (and unlikely first wife), Rosie. The lively, loving heroine once gave Driffield enough material to last a lifetime, but now her memory casts an embarrissing shadow over his career and respectable image. Wise, witty, deeply satisfying, Cakes and Ale is Maugham at his best.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (December 5, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375725024
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375725029
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #553,412 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Reading Somerset Maugham can be a little disorienting at times. I don't know about you, but when I read a first-person novel like "Cakes and Ale" I generally expect that first-person narrator to be the main character. Not this time; as usual with Maugham, the narrator is the storyteller, not the subject, and it is this seemingly unnecessary complication that leads to questions. Why not just write the usual third-person story?

Well, I haven't read much of Maugham's work, but what I have read concerns people whose actions and motives are mysterious to others. You can't very well preserve the aura of mystery around a character if the author knows everything the character thinks and does, can you? (Well, you can - see "Anna Karenina," for instance - but it's a difficult trick at best.) Much easier to give yourself a first-person narrator who can try very hard to understand your hero and fail, thus preserving the intrigue. That's what young Ashenden does here for the fascinating Rosie Driffield.

Everybody who knows Rosie loves her, in one way or another; some from afar, some (including Ashenden, Maugham's alter ego) from a good deal closer. Those who don't know her, on the other hand, hold her in contempt. Which wouldn't be all that important except that her husband, Edward Driffield, shortly emerges as one of the most important of the late-Victorian novelists. At that point, Rosie, a former barmaid, becomes a serious blot on Edward's reputation by her birth and background alone - bad enough when she's sleeping with every slightly interesting man who comes her way, worse after other developments ensue.

Ashenden tells us all this from a remove of several decades, long after Rose and Edward have both departed from the scene.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In the late 1920's, an aged literary lion, a venerated late Victorian novelist, Edward Driffield, has died and his widow thinks his life should be written down. She appeals to a younger novelist, Alroy Kear, who had attached himself to their society. In turn, he appeals to a friend who he knows must have known the legend earlier in life. The friend he turns to is the first-person narrator of CAKES AND ALE, Ashenden, also a novelist, who gradually reveals to the reader the truth of the deceased's early life. How much he will reveal to the other characters is another thing, and even if he did, the controlling widow, the man's second and much younger wife, would most likely excise what does not fit the public image she had worked hard to preserve. When it comes to pinning down a protagonist, however, the novel turns on the character of Rosie, Driffield's long-gone first wife.

Several things are going on in CAKES AND ALE. One is the real history of Edward Driffield (whose stature and career bear something of a resemblance to Thomas Hardy, who died in 1928), and the narrator's own interlinked coming of age. Then there is the narrator's scathing look at literary society and the machinations by which critical success and public favor are won. He drops a lot of industry insider jokes, and several actual personages are discussed, but he also returns to the eternal writers' theme of who among them will be read past their deaths. Lastly, the sharp contrast between Victorian life and 20th century existence emerges as a dramatic theme; there is the sense that those with one foot in each culture will never be able to fully absorb the rapid change in mores and fashions. The only figure who floats across the divide is the person who from the outset bucked convention of any kind, Rosie.
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Format: Paperback
Maugham once said of himself that he was in "the first row of second tier" of writers ... but this book leaves novels by "first tier" writers in the dust. Wonderfully written, great paragraphs, insights into the human condition, and a story line and builds and builds. You really identify with the characters by the end and feel their emotions as they feel them. I loved it. Maugham did, too - he said it in the intro to my edition that it was his favorite novel.
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Format: Paperback
I have never been disappointed by Maugham Somerset: Cakes and Ale is a light, beautifully written, partially autobiographical story about a barmaid with a big heart, British class-conciousness and snobbery and the literary scene in the first half of the twentieth century.
The narrator (Willie Ashenden, modelled after the author, a medical student turning into a writer) is mainly observant and doesn't influence the events taking place: The origins and later success of the great writer Edward Driffield and the touching portrait of his first wife, Rosie.
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Format: Paperback
"I have noticed that when I am most serious people are apt to laugh at me, and indeed when after a lapse of time I have read passages that I wrote from the fullness of my heart I have been tempted to laugh at myself. It must be that there is something naturally absurd in a sincere emotion, though why there should be I cannot imagine, unless it is that man, the ephemeral inhabitant of an insignificant planet, with all his pain and all his striving is but a jest in an eternal mind." p.189
Well crafted. I genuinely enjoy Maugham's style. It seems every author, at some point, is compelled to write about writing. Cakes and Ale is such a novel. It is the reconstruction of an author's life after his death. An ugly process. In this case, one that replaces the sordid experience of inspiration with the conformity of societal acceptance.
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