Florentine follies

22 09 2018

Up at the Villa by Somerset Maugham


Mary Panton walls up her desires in a beautiful villa high up in the hills above Florence, as she calmly contemplates her disastrous marriage. But a single act of compassion begins a nightmare of violence that shatters her serenity. She turns for help to the notorious Rowley Flint, and through him comes to realise that to deny love, with all its passions and risks, is to deny life itself.

A short novel of two parts, the first evocative, languid and contemplative as Mary reflects on her life as she looks out over Florence, and the second a roller coaster of events which changes the course of her life for good. Really well-paced, perfectly pitched and crafted, it’s a classic Maugham and well worth a read.


four stars

Going Gauguin

30 01 2016

The Moon and Sixpence by Somerset Maugham


Charles Strickland, a conventional stockbroker, abandons his wife and children for Paris and Tahiti, to live his life as a painter. Whilst his betrayal of family, duty and honour gives him the freedom to achieve greatness, his decision leads to an obsession which carries severe implications. Inspired by the life of Paul Gauguin, The Moon and Sixpence is at once a satiric caricature of Edwardian conventions and a vivid portrayal of the mentality of a genius.

Maugham is such a great writer and this is another outstanding example of his art. Highly recommended


four stars

Pure magic

21 03 2015

The Magician by Somerset Maugham


Set in the bohemian café society of Paris at the turn of the nineteenth century, Maugham’s exploration of hypnotism and the occult was inspired by the sinister black magician Aleister Crowley. At the start of this compulsive gothic horror story, Arthur and his beautiful, innocent fiancée Margaret look forward to an idyllic life together, until they encounter the mesmerising and repulsive Oliver Haddo…

It’s a really good yarn and something of a horror story based around the black arts. Needless to say therefore that the idyllic life anticipated by Arthur doesn’t quite come to pass and the Crowley-esque Haddo has a dramatic and disturbing impact on him. But even more so on Margaret….


Not so heroic

8 03 2014

The Hero by Somerset Maugham


Decorated Boer war veteran returns home to his small village to a hero’s welcome. He realises he no longer wants to marry his fiancee who has waited faithfully for him so he breaks off the engagement, much to the distress of his parents and the whole community. He feels profoundly affected by his war experience and continues to struggle to come to terms with a world which hasn’t changed.

It’s a quick read, well crafted and really quite poignant. Maugham captures well the torment and oppression of the returning hero to his small town and his ensuing relationship turmoil.

3 star

Razor sharp

30 12 2008

The Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham


Larry Darrell is a young American in search of the absolute. The progress of this spiritual odyssey involves him with some of Maugham’s most brilliant characters – his fiancee Isabel, whose choice between love and wealth have lifelong repercussions, and Elliot Templeton, her uncle, a classic expatriate American snob. The most ambitious of Maugham’s novels, this is also one in which Maugham himself plays a considerable part as he wanders in and out of the story, to observe his characters struggling with their fates.

Slower-paced than some other Maugham works but extremely well-written and well-realised characters as always. However, Larry and Isabel are difficult to feel huge sympathy for and Elliot’s snobbery really is quite sad all told. Still, great stuff.

4 star

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