Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham

I finished The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham earlier this week. It is my Mom's Club book club pick for the month of April (I'm ahead of the game!). I really liked the novel and read through it relatively quickly. It had nice short chapters that kept me intrigued. I watched the new movie version of this book last fall and I think the movie not only did a good job of bringing the novel to the big screen, but actually improved upon it. More of that discussion later. . .

The general plot of the novel is that a young woman named Kitty marries a shy bacterolgist, Walter Fane, even though she does not love him. She mostly marries him because she is getting old (25) and her much younger sister is about to be married. Kitty is married first and returns to Hong Kong with Walter before her sister's wedding, which makes her happy. While in Hong Kong, she meets the older Charlie Townsend and they have an affair. The novel starts with Walter discovering the affair. Walter tells her that she either has to get Charlie to agree to divorce his wife and marry her or she has to travel to the interior of China with him to help in a Cholera epidemic. Of course Charlie refuses to divorce his wife as Walter had predicted and Walter and Kitty travel to the interior of China. While there, Kitty learns a lot about her husband and herself. She works with small children at an orphanage and really comes into herself as a woman. I will say no more or the book/movie will be ruined for you!

I really liked Kitty's journey from a vane and selfish woman to someone that really started to care about other people. I didn't like some of Kitty's racist remarks about the orphans, but as the novel was written in the 1920's, you can't help but expect some of that!

I thought the movie improved on the novel as it really gave a more in depth portrayal of Walter and also showed a lot about the work he was doing to stop the Cholera epidemic, which I found fascinating. I also liked the ending of the movie better. SPOILER ALERT DON'T READ AHEAD IF YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW THE ENDING. I liked how in the movie Walter and Kitty find love although in the novel, Kitty never loves Walter, but only grows to respect him. I also liked how in the movie we don't see Kitty again until five years after Walter's death when she meets Charlie Townsend on the street with young Walter. He tries to set up a meeting, but she rejects him. I like that much better than the torrid last bit of steamy loving they had before she abruptly leaves for England in the book. It was degrading for Kitty.

I highly recommend both novel and film. Both were excellent.

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