Wednesday, January 13, 2010
An Old Friend
I have four volumes of W. Somerset Maugham's short stories that at one point I read through enthusiastically. In our reading group we read his Of Human Bondage and Cakes and Ale. So when I recently picked up The Moon and Sixpence it seemed more like visitng with an old friend. It wasn't until I was almost at the end of the book that I realized that it might be related to the life of Paul Gaughin - and it is. Although in this fictionalized biography the artist Charles Strickland is English instead of French.
What a hateful character Strickland is. Is it really necessary for an artist in pursuit of his vision of Beauty to be so thoroughly despising and abusive of his fellow humans? This is a perfect example of a book for which you can dislike the main character but like the book. What I really like about the book is the language. If you have ever been to Tahiti you really should read chapter 45 of this book. It will transport you there in an instant.
My only problem is that the narrator (speaking for Maugham?) seems to have a very low opinion of women. Not just the women in this story but the comments on the nature of women in general are far from flattering. Nevertheless...
Apparently Mario Vargas Llosa has also written a fictionalized account of the life of Gaughin: The Way to Paradise. It would be interesting to compare the two. No doubt the truth about Gaughin lies somewhere else still.