Tuesday, July 24, 2012

July Classics Challenge: Moon and Sixpence

William Somerset Maugham is one of my favourite authors and I love his short stories in particular. No-one can tell stories quite like him. There's this immense fascination with the things people do and because he's so interested, the reader is, too. Some are quite dramatic, others deal with very ordinary things and some go from the ordinary to the dramatic (read The Outstation and The Three Fat Women of Antibes).

Moon and Sixpence is the first novel of Maugham's I've ever read and I've read it many times since. This re-read was prompted by the fact that I bought myself a Nook and the novel is available at gutenberg.org.

It's the story of Strickland, who starts out as a stockbroker with no interest in the arts whatsoever. One day he suddenly leaves his wife and children and goes to Paris to paint - he feels he simply has to. He is not successfull, but keeps on painting and eventually moves to Tahiti where he dies, leaving behind a great many paintings that have become masterpieces by the time the book is written.

If this strikes you as vaguely familiar: the novel was inspired by the life of Paul Gaugin, but it's by no means a biography.

Strickland is a memorable character because he gives up the life he has lived for decades on what seems a whim at first. When the narrator speaks to him in Paris, it becomes clear that Strickland lacks the words to explain what has happened to him, but it's vital for him to paint. He does not care one bit for anything else or anyone, not his family, not the people who befriend him and not the woman who leaves her husband for him.

It's quite a feat to create such an unlikeable character and still have the readers care about what happends next. But there is something utterly fascinating about a man who follows the path he thinks he must take with such abandon.

The classics Challenge prompt this month was What is a moment, quote, or character that you feel will stay with you? Years from now, when some of the details have faded, that lasting impression the book has left you with... what is it? --or why did it fail to leave an impression?
There's a scene between Strickland and Dirk Stroeve, another painter whose wife has just left him for Strickland. Stroeve has been letting Strickland use and abuse him for long time. But his wife leaving him is too much and he attacks Strickland, who easily pushes him down. "You funny little man", says Strickland.
That whole scene is absolutely cruel and perfectly illustrates the man Strickland is. It has made quite an impression with me and it appears not just with me. Stephen King quotes it in Bag of Bones (he seems to have a liking for Maugham anyway - good taste, that man).

Fifth book for the Classics Challenge

Reviews 2012

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