Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Of Human Bondage - W. Somerset Maugham

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Eddie*: Of Human Bondage. Have you ever read it? 
Buffy: Oh, I'm not really into porn. I mean, I'm just trying to cut way back.
Before I start my review, I'd like to say a little about how I came to this book.  I initially found this book through a list of alumni from my old university.  After searching Somerset Maugham on Google, I was intrigued but, I didn't take it any further.  A few months later (maybe more, time blurred at uni) I found myself watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer (one of the best TV shows) and this book came up in The Freshman (S4).  It kept bugging me and bugging me... was Joss Whedon subconsciously directing us to great books??  So, I took the plunge and bought the book.


Shows Buffy and Eddie looking at a map

* Played by Pedro Pascal, later to be known as Prince Oberyn or the Red Viper

I must confess at the outset, almost halfway through, I put Of Human Bondage back on the bookshelf out of sheer anger.  Hats off to Somerset Maugham, he has created a grade-A bitch in Mildred (I won't say more other) and I was so annoyed at how Philip kept on loving her.  To be fair, the relationship between Mildred and Philip is, arguably, the main plot of the book and explains the title Of Human Bondage - to be so emotionally involved with someone, that you cannot escape even if the object of your love treats you with the upmost disgust.  The relationship was excellently executed; Maugham has created the most parasitic, repellent character I have read.  Having made a second attempt, I think this anger is what Maugham wanted from his readers and I no longer feel anger at Philip's lack of self-respect and dignity.
“He did not care if she was heartless, vicious and vulgar, stupid and grasping, he loved her. He would  rather have misery with one than  happiness with the other.”
The second main plot itself is Philip's life.  Normally, when a story follows a character from birth, there tends to be boring points.  Not so with Maugham.  His childhood was exquisitely written and I enjoyed every journey that Philip took.

I also liked this book because of the themes which act as an undercurrent, these themes include:
Loneliness due to moving to a big city and due to a stigmatised disability;
Money worries and how they affect future plans/desire for life;
The question of talent and whether the talent is sufficient to carry on; and
Philosophical questions, e.g. the meaning of Kant.
Not only did I like the themes, but I liked how Maugham used them.  They are not too long, they are in just the right areas.  Maugham also is not melodramatic, they are a fair, credible and believable discussion.  I think they make genuine insights that are interesting.

Overall, despite the initial lag, I am glad I carried on.  An excellent novel which is still very much relevant today.


Book Facts
Publication Date: 1915
Pages: 720
My Edition: Vintage Classics, 2000.
Cover:


Elegant woman in black dress, white gloves and hat at front. Man in brown suit with hands in pocket in the foreground.


Upcoming reviews: A History of Loneliness by John Boyne.

2 comments:

  1. Hmmm...maybe when I read it again someday (just finished it) I won't be so disgusted with Philip's devotion to Mildred...uuugh!!! Fascinating book though. Nice review.

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    Replies
    1. Yes, that was very uuugh! I almost threw the book across the room, she is such a vile person. Yes it was very fascinating. Thanks! That's means a lot thank you seeing as this is my first ever review :-)

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