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The Moon and Sixpence (Penguin Classics) Paperback – November 29, 2005
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This month's Book With Buzz: "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
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"[A] witty, compelling roman à clef...that mock[s] the way the world makes saints of the sinners who are often its best artists." -The Boston Globe
"It is very difficult for a writer of my generation, if he is honest, to pretend indifference to the work of Somerset Maugham.... He was always so entirely there." -Gore Vidal
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This story is one of obsession, about an unlikely, dull, human being, with a mundane life, who has amazing talent that lies latent until one day he can't take it anymore. At the age of 40 he chucks a great job, an a nice family and devoted wife, to life in abject poverty to pursue an obsession, painting. No one believes in him at first. It's ridiculous. At 40 years old to throw away a good, solid life with a good family, to be a starving artist with no apparent talent. One of my favorite conversations in the whole book is when Maugham asks him why he would do such a thing, leaving behind his children and wife, with no obvious talent, it is crazy and cold hearted. And the character, Strickland, tells him something to the effect that when a man is suddenly thrown into the water he has to swim, it doesn't matter how well he swims, he has to do it or he will drown. His obsession to paint was so overwhelming that he "had to swim" and he doesn't give a damn whether he has talent, he has to do it or he will drown. That description of what might possess a true artist like Gauguin, Cezanne, Van Gogh, was one of the most adept way to sum that up that I think I have ever read. This book is charming and fascinating as a story of obsession with pursuing a dream no matter what, sacrificing one's life in pursuit of something that possesses someone. It was captivating, riveting. Don't we all wish, on some level, we could have a passion that would be so deep, would disturb us to point of throwing away all else to push ourselves to create something the world has never seen. That's what this story is about. In some ways you hate Strickland. He is cold hearted and selfish, yet there is a part of you that wishes you were at least a little bit like him, in terms of pursuing something with utter abandon, being so obsessed. This is a great story.
Maugham's interesting study based on the life of the painter Paul Gauguin is partly a mockery of society's willingness to turn sinners into saints and partly a sober look at the artist's lifelong pursuit of "beauty" and its costs to both himself/herself and to loved ones.
I'd recommend it if you like Somerset Maugham, which I do, even though he was somewhat of an old lady in temperament. Warning too: it's fairly sexist -- one example, "Women are strange little beasts,... You can treat them like dogs, you can beat them till your arm aches, and still they love you." He shrugged his shoulders. "Of course, it is one of the most absurd illusions of Christianity that they have souls.... In the end they get you, and you are helpless in their hands. White or brown, they are all the same."