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The Painted Veil Paperback – November 14, 2006
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“The modern writer who has influenced me the most.” – George Orwell
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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.
The Painted Veil is a beautifully written affirmation of the human capacity to grow, to change, and to forgive.
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In W. Somerset Maugham’s simple story “The Painted Vail” he does just this. Set against the backdrop of colonial Hong Kong, the tale is of a colonial housewife of a lower level civil servant, who settled for a man she really didn’t love out of fear of missing her moment and ended up embarking upon a lackluster tryst which ends in folly.
There are no great morals to take from this story, no epic moments of significance, no grand gestures or powerful monologues that seek to assure the reader that there is an underlying idea that the author is trying to convey. It’s just a story, simple and honest – and for that it is great.
Of course Maugham wrote in a different time. I suspect that his Victorian era “classical” style would not be well received in a time when the public hankers for long car chases and grand gun battles against the backdrop of world-altering geo-political struggles – and plenty of flesh in between. He was able to simply tell the stories of normal people and their unremarkable interactions. I envy him for this – I would like to write the literary fiction that Maugham was able to get away with, and not have to worry about all the tools and tricks and hooks upon which we are taught modern literature depends. But alas we are products of our time – as was Maugham.
To be sure, Maugham is one of England’s greatest writers; one who has distinguished himself up against so many who will remain forever anonymous. Then, as now, he was treasured for the simplicity of his stories that overflowed with humanity. He is missed; and for the critical reader, he never disappoints.
I did prefer the film, released in 2006. It made me CARE about Walter and his death more than I did in the book. I was horrified when one of the book characters states that he may have experimented on himself on purpose, rather than accident. I was glad that was left out in the film. I would suggest watching the film before reading the novel, because they are so different from each other. The film is LOOSELY based on the book.
Despite these differences, I would highly recommend everyone interested to read this book. It's less than 200 pages and a hard book to put down. Very entertaining, well imaged and I have not "highlighted" as much as I did in this book than previous books.