Book Thoughts: The Painted Veil

THe Painted

Successfully finished for the Dusting off the shelf Read-a-Thon. This completes the book written before 2010 challenge.
If you are looking for a book with a happy ending, walk away. Now.

If you are looking for a likable MC, walk away. Now.

If you for some reason like reading books that leave you empty and clutching tissues. Read this. Now.

“If it is necessary sometimes to lie to others, it is always despicable to lie to oneself.”

Kitty Fane is the product of an overbearing mother whose sole purpose for her daughter was to marry well. Kitty was born beautiful, so she assumed she would have her pick of the litter. Which she did, until she kept waiting for someone better to come along. Surprise Surprise no one ever did. After her younger sister’s marriage is announced, Kitty decides to marry Walter Fane, a bacteriologist working out of Hong Kong. She marries him despite thinking he’s “…not her type at all”. Because anything is better than watching your younger sister marry before you right?

Soon after their marriage, the couple moves to Hong Kong where Kitty begins an affair with a married man. She falls in love. He not so much. They’re discovered by Walter because these two don’t even have the brains to get a hotel room.

While all of this is occurring in Hong Kong, there is a cholera epidemic taking place in Mei-tan-fu. A Chinese fictional region created by Maugham.

Walter gives Kitty and ultimatum. He’ll divorce her as long as her lover agrees to marry her, or she goes with him to Mei-Tan-Fu. Of course her lover doesn’t agree to marry her, because what would his children think of him? So, to Mei- Tan Fu it is.

I’m afraid you’ve thought me a bigger fool than I am.

I had seen the film before I read the book, so of course Walter was Edward Norton to me. (By the way, Norton does a fantastic job in the film) Walter is an underdog character, so you can’t help but root for him when he starts showing his teeth. Even if you know that some of his decisions are unreasonable. Despite Kitty’s frivolousness and vanity he really loves her, and her betrayal is devastating.

What was it in the human heart that made you despise a man because he loved you?

I intensely dislike Kitty. She’s selfish and cruel. She likes to blame others for her mistakes. However, she goes through a transformation and although I never grew to like her, I enjoyed seeing her gradually change.

There are no heros here. They are all intensely flawed characters and Maugham doesn’t try to hide that.

“…the human race, like 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.”

W Somserset Maughan’s writing is incredibly insightful. He shows us what a person can become when they’re taken away from their life of privilege and comfort, and they’re forced to confront their mistakes.

The novel is told in third person through Kitty’s eyes and she notices everything. We really get to the heart of every character. The good, the bad, what makes them tick and what makes them who they are. Kitty is also a contemplative character. I love those kinds of narratives where the character sort of starts to look at life through new eyes, and they can make me see it as well.

They’re so many opposites in this book. We have completely selfish and vapid characters, and on the other side of the spectrum, we have selfless and giving characters.

Needless to say, the book has a different ending from the film, but I was still sad at the turn of the events. It’s one of those stories that you know how it is going to end, but you still have that tiny bit of hope that it’ll end differently.

Overall, despite it’s heaviness I highly recommend it. It’s a great study on relationships and people.

This is my first W Somerset Maughham novel, but it won’t be my last.


12 thoughts on “Book Thoughts: The Painted Veil

    • The movie is actually one of the few adaptions I’ve seen where I didn’t mind the changes they made because I feel like as whole it captured the tone of the book. Hope you enjoy the it 🙂

  1. Congrats on finishing this part of the Read-A-Thon challenge! The Painted Veil definitely sounds like a book I would enjoy too. I already loved the movie, so I’m adding this to my TBR list straight away. 🙂

  2. This is one of those books I wish I hadn’t read – not because I didn’t learn something from it, not because it isn’t beautifully written, and not because it doesn’t have poignant value, but because you can never unfeel some of the feelings it left you with or thoughts that sneak up on you in moments you least expect. You did a wonderful value of communicating its value and steering people who would be looking for the wrong thing away from it.

    • Thank you. It’s one of those books that was hard for me to describe. It’s so dark in many ways, that it’s hard to give reasons for reading it. But, I am glad I’ve read it. I’ve had similar experiences with this one as you. My mind has been wandering to it during random moments, and I just get sad or nostalgic. It’s really strange.

  3. I think I’m too much of a happily ever after girl for this book. You made it sound good though. Congrats on finishing the read a thon! 🙂 I didn’t do so well. (Hide behind stack of books I meant to read but didn’t.)

  4. I must read this one day!
    I read Maugham’s other novel,Of Human Bondage,which turned to be unbelievably good despite being heavily autobiographical!
    That book was one of those which change your life. 🙂

    • I actually got Of Human Bondage after I finished this one. I heard it was his masterpiece, and I plan to read it soonish. It’s nice to hear more good things about it!

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