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Accidental Maugham

The Moon and Sixpence book coverW. Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage is listed at #92 on Bachblog’s 113 Great 20th Century Novels. I have a copy of it on my Nook and started to read it a few nights ago. Or at least I thought I did.

I also have a copy of Maugham’s The Moon and Sixpence on my Nook, and it was this lesser work my clumsy finger chose to open. My copy is from Project Gutenberg and does not include cover art. Somehow I failed to read the title page, or at least to notice that it was a title page. I think I took it for the title of part one of the book, or some such thing. At any rate I read the first few chapters before I even suspected that the book was not Of Human Bondage (which I have never read).

So, The Moon and Sixpence

My overwhelming impression of the novel as I read it was that nothing about it rang true to life. The protagonist, if such a word even fits in this case (there is scant action in the story), is the painter Charles Strickland. He is portrayed as a cruel and inhuman genius. Badly. Not attractive as a character, not even as an antihero. Just not believable. The narrator’s decades long fascination with the man puzzled me.

Imagine my surprise to learn that the novel is said to be loosely based on the life of Paul Gauguin. Really? So, I read a bit about Gauguin. It seems he was indeed a real-life unattractive rogue. But I just can’t persuade myself—based, I’ll admit, on only the sketchiest details of his biography—that he was anything close to as unsympathetic a character as the fictional Strickland.

It’s no wonder this novel isn’t found anywhere on Bachblog’s 113 Great 20th Century Novels. I hope for better from Of Human Bondage.

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