the mutt

Up At The Villa – Somerset Maugham

Posted in Book Reviews by grx20 on October 29, 2008
up at the villa

up at the villa

For years now, I’ve wanted to give Maugham a shot, but Of Human Bondage seemed to be a rather large bite to chew.

Up At The Villa is wonderful introduction to one of the finest writers. It’s a small book – just about a hundred pages. Some may argue Maugham’s best works were behind him when he wrote it, but that is a matter for intellectuals to worry about. I found it to be a warm, entertaining read and a writing style that was easy, fluid and tender. The story is a delicate balance of suspense, romance and human drama.

Villa (which reads like a classic crime thriller) is about Mary, a widow contemplating her next steps in life. Trying to play a significant part in that are Edgar, a 54 year old pukka sahib who’s just been offered a plum administrative role in Bengal that could eventually raise him to the post of Viceroy. To this duo, Maugham adds the roguish Rowley Flint who, too, is trying to win her favour. In Edgar and Flint, we have the extreme choice that lies before Mary.
Halfway through, the story takes a sharp turn – tragedy strikes when Mary meets a young Austrian refugee, Karl Richter and gives him a moment he will never experience again.

That basically is the set-up in which Maugham explores human drama. I particularly enjoyed reading Mary’s conversation with Flint as she drives him back home after a party. The latter half of the story is a real page turner and reads like a thriller, except written with more flourish and style. In fact, Maugham’s dialogues are beautiful. The cat and mouse manoeuvring and jibes that underlie the Mary-Flint conversations are a pure delight to read – and an invaluable lesson for writers.

Villa is a nice introduction to Maugham. I think I should be able to manage Of Human Bondage next.

Aside: Director Philip Haas gave us his version of the novel in a movie of the same name, released in 2000. The star cast – Kristin Scott Thomas, Sean Penn, Anne Bancroft, Jeremy Davies. From what I gather, the movie did neither justice to the novel, nor made money at the box office.


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