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W. Somerset Maugham
256 Pages
Publisher: Vintage (November 2006)
ISBN: 0307277771
Price: S$22.05 (Available in Borders)






Bearing the risk of being loathed by female readers everywhere, this reviewer is going to insensitively state that women are the strangest species to understand ever. This book only further reaffirmed that notion.

In this 1925 book, popular novelist W. Somerset Maugham writes a beautifully lyrical story about a British upper-class woman Kitty Fane who is forced by her husband to go to China where cholera raids the land. She brought this ill fate upon herself – the love-starved woman had an affair with a politician. In China, she goes through an emotional roller coaster ride where she comes to terms with her own life.

It is almost unfathomable how an entire novel can be written out of this woman’s self-discovery journey. Oh wait - this is exactly the type of feminist literature which attracts female readers. And how unfortunate that this reviewer isn’t one.

It is however interesting to note that Maugham is of the male species himself.

There is no doubt that his descriptions of the landscapes in China are gorgeously written, and will probably form picturesque visions in readers’ minds. The short chapters and plentiful of dialogue also make this book an easy read.

Maugham also avoids sweetening of his characters, taking care to paint them in a neutral; or even dislikeable light. The female protagonist Kitty Fane is one great example. Her behavior is typically aristocratic, right up top the point where a personal tragedy strikes and compels her to re-define her outlook in life. Naomi Watts breathes life into this character in a movie adaptation directed by John Curran. We hear that Watts gives a luminous performance in the film co-starring Edward Norton.

Towards the end of the book, the character is faced with a sudden heartbreak where readers will want to empathize with her.

This is also where the book attempts to turn dramatic and engaging, hoping to draw you into its richly-written plot.

And this is where this reviewer decides to put himself in the shoes of this poor woman as well. Because it is high time he paid attention to these finer details in life.


“Her happiness, sometimes almost more than she could bear, renewed her beauty. Just before she married, beginning to lose her first freshness, she had looked tired and drawn. The uncharitable said that she was going off. But there is all the difference between a girl of twenty-five and a married woman of that age. She was like rosebud that is beginning to turn yellow at the edge of the petals, and then suddenly she was a rose in full bloom.”


While we think that female readers will enjoy this book a lot, male readers should also give it a go – because of its descriptive prose and attention to the smallest details in scenes which may bring pleasant surprises to your read.

Review by John Li



. Painted Veil



This book review is made possible with the kind sponsor of BORDERS


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