Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Painted Veil

A wonderful work by Somerset Maugham, this tells the story of vain, shallow Kitty Garstin, who marries Walter Fane just to beat her younger sister to the altar and to get away from her overbearing mother. It is the 1920's and Walter is a bacteriologist stationed in Hong Kong. Kitty soon is bored with Walter; she conducts an affair with Charles Townsend, a junior official in government in Hong Kong who owes his position to his wife. Walter discovers the affair and issues an ultimatum: come to the cholera-ridden Chinese interior with him, or face scandal as he names Townsend co-respondent in a divorce proceedings. She goes. And grows, thank goodness. None of the characters are likeable at first. The second half of the book is much more compelling than the first. Kitty begins to volunteer in an orphanage managed by a group of French nuns. She experiences some self awareness, though it doesn't help her marriage. Eventually she must retrace her steps to Hong Kong, then to England. We are left with the hope that she finds the freedom and peace she desires.

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