The Painted Veil – W. Somerset Maugham

Posted 13 June, 2011 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 21 Comments


Title: The Painted Veil
Author: W. Somerset Maugham
Published: 1925; Pages: 246
Genre: Literary Fiction/Classic
Rating: 4/5

The Painted Veil in Short: A foreign country and a forbidden affair; Self-discovery and search for forgiveness and redemption. Old beginnings and new starts. Again, why do I bother… ;) Would you care if I just didn’t do a summary at all?

Why I Read this book: The Painted Veil is one of those that I kept hearing about and was vaguely aware of the movie with Naomi Watts and Edward Norton. In usual Trish fashion, I had no idea what the book was about when I started reading it–I bought it a few years ago secondhand and decided to read it before I had Elle because it was short. And so many bloggers list it as one of their favorites or one they would highly recommend.

Thoughts in General:
It had been a while since I’d read anything that could be considered a classic and so it took me a little while to get into the writing style. The writing reminded me of some of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s works and once I found my rhythm I quickly fell in love with Maugham’s style (see below). It always seemed as though Maugham was speaking of a greater truth–focusing on human nature as a whole; read this book made me yearn for more classical works where I can just drink in the language and be fully sated.

The Painted Veil is a very introspective work and in many ways I felt I was intruding upon the main character, Kitty, and her most personal thoughts. Throughout the novel she struggles with her love affair to a married man and her failing relationship with her own husband and it was almost painful to watch the paths she took that eventually forced her to take a look at her own life. I was often annoyed by her foolishness and was even more bothered by the actions of her lover Charlie and husband Walter, but I think there is something to be said about books that leave you feeling a little uncomfortable. Because what is comfortable about an affair, lies, deceit, not knowing oneself, uncertainty and insecurity.

Bottom Line: My mom asked me shortly after I finished this one if I would recommend it to her friend. I hesitated because the book isn’t terribly action-packed and in all honesty it’s pretty depressing. Because most of the novel follows Kitty and her internal struggles, it takes a bit of patience to work through the novel, but Maugham’s writing struck a very strong chord with me. The Painted Veil is haunting and beautiful and tragic. If you’re looking for a quieter novel with strong character development and a focus on writing, I would highly recommend this book. It really is literary fiction at its finest.

A Taste of the Writing:

“She was silent. Vaguely, as when you are studying a foreign language and read a page which at first you can make nothing of, till a word or a sentence gives you a clue; and on a sudden a suspicion, as it were, of the sense flashes across your troubled wits, vaguely she gained an inkling into the workings of Walter’s mind. It was like a dark and ominous landscape seen by a flash of lightning and in a moment hidden again by the night. She shuddered at what she saw” (82).

“It seemed to Kitty that they were all, the human race, like the drops of water in that river and they flowed on, each so close to the other and yet so far apart, a nameless flood, to the sea. When all things lasted so short a time and nothing mattered very much, it seemed pitiful that men, attaching an absurd importance to trivial objects, should make themselves and one another so unhappy” (150).

Have you read this one? What did you think?

Have you seen the movie? Is it worth watching?

21 Responses to “The Painted Veil – W. Somerset Maugham”

  1. I loved the film with Ed Norton in, but I still haven’t got around to reading the book. The film made me cry so the book will probably do the same. Lovely review Trish.

  2. Hahaha, I love your summary. Aren’t they the HARDEST to write sometimes?

    Like Viv I’ve seen the film. *sigh* Edward Norton = delish, but the book rests on my shelf. Everyone I know loves it so I don’t know what’s stopping me.

  3. The movie is definitely worth watching. It’s a little different than the book and would make a great movie/book compare post. I loved both!

  4. I hate writing summaries too! I’m glad you loved this one. I’m drawn to depressing novels for whatever reason. I’m partway through Maugham’s Of Human Bondage and I’m really enjoying it. I’ll have to make The Painted Veil my next Maugham read.

  5. The movie ending is very different, and much happier. It’s good, but it’s a different story.

    I empathized most with Walter in this book. People don’t usually like him, but I do. :)

  6. It always takes me a little while to adjust to the language of classics. I’m not sure this is for me – I like a little more action in my books.

  7. Normally, I watch any movie with Edward Norton. I actually sat through the Woody Allen musical Everyone Says I Love You (which is terrible, btw) because he’s in it.

    However, I’ve drawn the line at this movie because it looks depressing and boring. Your review of the book didn’t help. ;-p


  8. I didn’t realize the book was a classic. For some reason I had it in my head this book came out more recently. I do enjoy books like this although am not sure I would be able to read it right now. One to save for later for sure. Thank you for your thoughtful review, Trish.

  9. I just bought this one two weeks ago! Like you, I had noticed the good reviews for it, and since I have been meaning to read Maugham and I found a copy at Half Priced Books, I figured this was my chance.

  10. *Vivienne – The book was pretty sad but it sounds like from the comments that the two differ from each other a lot!

    *Christina – I loathe writing summaries (I always skim them when I read reviews). Love Edward Norton–I’ll have to look into the movie!

    *Chrisbookarama – I’ll be seeking out Maugham’s works as well–I had no idea he had written so much!

    *JoAnn – It’s hard for me to visualize the movie since so much of the book was internal, but it has a great cast of characters!

    *Kristi – I haven’t heard much of Of Human Bondage but I think it’s the one Maugham is best known for. Glad you’re enjoying it! Will have to look for it next time I’m book shopping.

    *Amanda – LOL–yes, wouldn’t call this ending happy. ;) I felt really sorry for Walter–I definitely think he got the crap end of all the deals!

    *Bermuda – This is definitely a character-study type book–focus on language and the people. A little bit of action, but not much.

    *Paxton – Skip. ;) Can you just watch American History X instead? I love Edward Norton as well–fantastic actor! Not a big Woody Allen fan, though (did see the musical, though).

    *Lit Feline – I don’t know if classic is the right genre? But it was written in the 20s and definitely has that style of writing. The only upside to this one is it’s short–I just can’t seem to read long books these days. ;)

    *Steph/Lola – Ha! I got my copy at HPB as well. ;) I hope you enjoy it–the writing is just gorgeous.

  11. I fell in love with the movie, and then read the book, which is kind of backwards for me, but in this case it was okay. Though different, I thought they were both great.
    As for the summary, I think having a baby gives you some sort of rights to skip it if you want.

  12. eh, I don’t know. I can get into “old” language after a time, but the plot of this one…just not sure. I think I’ll check out the movie instead. Thanks Trish :)

  13. I read this a couple of years ago, saw it on the shelf around the time the movie came out and was curious. I really enjoyed it, especially how he shows the changes in Kitty’s character. You’re right that it’s a quiet novel, though. I thought the movie was pretty good, too.

  14. I’ve never had the chance to read this book or author before be it is on my TBR list. And I’m definitely intrigued after reading your review. Looks like I might have to pick it up at some point soon!

  15. I listened to this one a few years ago and remember liking it but when I just checked I only gave it 3 1/2 stars. Hmm. Still haven’t seen the movie.

  16. First of all, I am loving the pictures of the books you are taking. Beautiful!
    I love your reviews, and mostly your book choices. I think I choose my reading mainly on your reviews, so thanks!!
    And I have really loved everything with Edward Norton that I have seen. Love him!

  17. Marina

    I haven’t watch the movie but the book is awesome. I’m just in love with it! It maybe a bit depressing but it reflects the peculiarities of that time and has a very deep meaning. I’ve chosen it for my individual project on the British Literature ))