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The Painted Veil
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on January 31, 2016
Enthralling story that is delivered in vast detail. A read that should be savored, passages reread, and the plot appreciated. The Painted Veil is one of those stories that calls to a reader when the last page is devoured. So much I watched the movie and plan to re-read this story again. And again. When a physician relocates and takes his wife with him, they're both out of their elements. And pushed to the edge.
And that is where they discover love, heartache, and loss.
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on June 24, 2015
A great writer, a truly great writer, takes the ordinary and transforms it into a compelling tale. He is able to weave a beautiful tapestry from the most commonplace of materials; things that we all find laying cluttered around our lives. Betrayal, depression, frustration, lust. Not epic betrayal that destroys nations, but personal acts of inconsistency that end in suffering. Not great depression, like Sylvia Plath, which was channeled by an enormous spirit into an indomitable art, but a petty personal depression made of up self-pity and envy. Not frustration against the great plans of men gone awry, but simple frustration brought from boredom. And lust – not a great lust like Helen of Troy or Tristan and Isolde, but an average lust stemming from all these things.

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.
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on November 13, 2013
After seeing part of the movie version of this novel on TV, I had to rewatch the entire DVD and then order the book. I love the authors' descriptive style and the book gives a more detailed look at the main character Kitty and why she chose the path she did. The book filled in many of the character's personality quirks, clarifies Kitty's home life causing her to impulsively marry Walter. Fascinating look at these characters, and how people rationalize their behavior, even if it involves hurt and heartbreak when reality sets in. As readers. we are left to wonder who is the father of Kitty's child...Walter, her husband or her lover Charlie?
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on January 16, 2013
Maugham does a fantastic job maturing the protagonist, Kitty Fane, from her spoiled view on life, to a self realization of her actions. I was very disappointed by the end of the book, however, that after her husband dies and she regrets her affair with Charlie, she sleeps with him AGAIN. Why? She lost a lot of her growth she gained in the book when she did that. But I suppose that proves that we are human and continue to make mistakes.

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.
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on December 3, 2014
My first but not last read of Somerset Maugham. I love his intricate description of the characters, bringing them to life: their emotions, conflicts, tensions, and joys. The characters are British but locale is China in the 1930s which makes the book more intriguing. The main story is of two peole who fall in love with someone who does not love them and the intense problems their choices bring. But for the woman at least, there is growth and redemption in her development. After reading this one, I read two more of Maugham's books and enjoyed all of them.
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on February 4, 2013
A warning: Unless spoilers don't bother you, I recommend against reading Maugham's introduction to his book. I felt as though I would have preferred not knowing some of the information the introduction forced me to know in advance of reading the text.


When I had finished the first 30 percent of Veil, I was enjoying a selfish, gullible young woman get what was coming to her. After the early going, though, I began to see the book as a growing-up story--Kitty Fane began making steady progress. Whereas, initially, she had no respect for her husband, Walter, and much preferred a far less worthy man, Charlie, she seemed to be a fast learner. In fact, as I neared the mid-point I wondered if any human really learns as fast as Kitty seemed to be learning. Yet, the book moves fast. Time seems compressed, although the events don't last more than perhaps five months. Another speedy feature of the text: Most of the chapters run just a few pages, and, strangely (to me), I liked that. I was aware of no want of proper development or adequate detail.


Maugham had more in mind than dramatizing the improving maturity of a vain woman. After turning the last page, I wonder whether part of his focus was not the power that physical attraction can exert even on a woman making very substantial gains toward wisdom and maturity. But even the two elements I've described so far (getting what one deserves and the power of physical attraction) would not have made Veil for me a favorite item of literature; a third element did: What in life satisfies a human and to what extent are humans capable of achieving satisfaction? Deep in the book, Kitty asks a friend:

"I'm looking for something and I don't quite know what it is. But I know that it's very important for me to know it, and if I did it would make all the difference."

The friend responds with a reference to Tao:

"Some of us look for the Way in opium and some in God, some of us in whiskey and some in love. It is all the same Way and it leads nowhither."

I looked up "nowhither" to be sure what it meant: No place. All such efforts lead no place. Having turned the last page, I speculate that Maugham's underlying message is, Don't expect much from yourself. He may even be telling us, The fulfillment of modest duty may be as good as it gets.
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on May 7, 2016
I bought the book because I enjoyed the movie so very much. There is no doubt that Somerset Maugham is a master author. He gets into the minds and emotions of his characters. His book is easy to read and a truly enjoyable read. But, he is so cynical and I think the movie improved on the book immensly. Kitty, though she made much growth and improvement through the story, missed out on the most important thing--giving love to the one who loved her the most. So in that aspect, she really remains selfish and self-centered to the end.
The movie created a truly awesome ending and that's what grabbed my heart. I'm going to remember the movie, not the book.
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on April 29, 2016
I wanted to love W. Somerset Maugham, because many of my reading friends adore his writing. But he's just a product of his era. There is a rape in this book, but when told by the male writer, it becomes acceptable behavior. When they are raped, women do NOT feel the way the character is described and supporting this in literature just perpetuates the myth. I decided not to read any more of his works based on how women were treated in this one.
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on May 31, 2016
I saw The Painted Veil on TV and liked the movie and decided to get the book to read. It was quite different from the movie but I loved the book very much. I like the time the book is written and the role she is forced to take on. I found her life so empty and sad and then there was reason to rejoice at the end - sort of what my life has been like but living in the states. I love reading so much that this was a pleasure to read. Some might want things to move more quickly but I could imagine and picture their lives. Very difficult life in China. I don't think much has really changed today.
Connecticut reader
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on September 15, 2017
Unsympathetic characters become frail and fragile humans in this love - gone - wrong tale set in the Far East. Maugham is a master at depicting stunning, exotic locales and their magical effects on mere mortals and sinners. No cardboard heroes in this tome --- just haunted humans doing the best they can.
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