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Review: The Painted Veil, W. Somerset Maugham

Beautiful Kitty Fane is unhappy in her marriage to Sir Walter Fane and resorts to an affair to satisfy her need for a more potent love.  When Walter finds out about the affair, he exiles them both to help with a cholera outbreak in a remote part of China.  Starved of the society in which she has spent her entire life, Kitty learns who she really is and what love is in this vacuum, changing and growing dramatically.

At first, I didn’t like Kitty.  She is silly and irritating with Charlie and I couldn’t imagine anyone ever leaving their wife for her, let alone marrying her.  She trapped herself in that loveless marriage and her needs are entirely her own fault.  I didn’t believe that she deserved to die of cholera as it seemed her husband wanted her to, but I did think she deserved punishment.  I really appreciated how she grew as a character when she was encountered with real suffering and need, though, and how she came to appreciate her husband through other people’s eyes.  It was easy to see how society’s expectations and entertainments molded her character and how she had to break that mold once she was exposed to this vastly different place.

I was also fascinated by the depiction of the British empire’s distant regions.  The book may be dated, but I appreciated the perspective, particularly the difference between the city and the country in China.

I think this is very worth a read and I definitely recommend it.

Buy The Painted Veil on Amazon.

Has anyone seen this movie, by the way? Is it any good? I’ve had it saved on the TiVo at my parents’ for months.

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8 comments to Review: The Painted Veil, W. Somerset Maugham

  • Thanks for the review. I know I read this years ago, but can’t remember what I thought of it. I’ll have to drag it off the shelf and take another look.

  • I enjoyed this one too. I saw the movie and it is very good. Ed Norton does a fabulous job. It’s a much more romantic film than the book, but I liked them both for different reasons.

  • Thanks for the review. I don’t think I’ve ever read any Somerset Maugham.

  • I read this book just this week and loved it. I read some Maugham when I was
    young but it has been years since I read him. I didn’t know there was a filmed version
    but I do like Ed Norton’s work, I’ll have to rent it. Thanks for reviewing this. I tire of only seeing reviews of new releases, I like to read and suggest oldies but goodies too.

  • This has to be one of the best books I read in 2008! Glad to see you liked it, too.

  • I haven’t read the book yet, so I can’t comment on how they compare, but I did enjoy the movie. The first part of it was hard to watch, since it was almost exclusively people being horrible to each other, but by the end, I really liked it.

  • I enjoyed this book a lot as well. I really want to see the movie – I think Naomi Watts and Edward Norton were well cast.

  • Wally Jenkins

    Like some of you, I read ‘Painted Veil” after seeing the movie.Loved both of them.
    I’ve been a Maugham fan for years and I’ve never found an author who equals him especialy in the short story department.
    If you want to explore Maugham further, I’d suggest you try “Theater” that was one of his
    earliest books.I just finished it and plan to read it again.
    Wally
    New York