This is a book that will remain an eternal favorite. I’d picked it up from a friend, and have never wanted to return it. It speaks much about my nature, but I think you’d change your opinion if you read it.
For me, the book has a very Dickensian feel. It charts the story of Philip Carey, an orphan living with his uncle and aunt, his journey from childhood to adulthood. After his mother’s death, Philip is sent to live with his uncle, the vicar of Blackstable, a small village in East Anglia. Here he learns to live with his weak and childless aunt and his nearly religiously fanatic uncle. Philip finds escape from the boring life at the vicarage in his uncle’s collection of books. He spends his childhood in a boarding school, where he finds it difficult to fit in on account of his shy nature and club foot. Maugham plays upon this physical disability and it has a great bearing on Philip’s attitude towards life throughout the story.
The Dickensian feel is evident in the unfortunate childhood of Philip along with the physical disability he suffers, which strongly affects his personality. Maugham shows us the child with a complex who grows to be a youth with a voracious appetite for knowledge and experience and how he matures to be a man who seeks only peace and contentment.
Philip Carey has to be one of the most intriguing, complex and, at the same time, identifiable character in the history of fiction. You sympathise with him, you hate him, you pity him, you mock him, you question him, you feel with him, for him at every turn of the page.
His characters are fallible, and he shows their humanness through that. He shows human struggle against nature and their own troubling hearts. The point where Philip questions the very human bondage of life and its obligations to the self to make something good of a life, takes the reader on a path of introspection that proves difficult to abandon. We see his characters try to make life better, more fruitful, more exciting or wring more meaning out of it through God, art, through service to others, through travel and knowledge..
Maugham doesn’t preach, doesn’t deliver a message. What he does is paint a picture, a picture on a grand canvas, with every tiny detail drawn in vividness, with each tone highlighting the gravity and humor of the situation, bringing every character to life with brushstrokes of a genius.
This book is said to be a classic and I pray people don’t fall vitim to the the popular adage which claims classics being books everyone has heard of but never read. Prove the old cliche wrong and pick this book up.
You can read the complete review here.