July 13, 2008

Review: The Painted Veil

The Painted Veil
by W. Somerset Maugham

"Lift not the painted veil that those who live call Life."
Sonnet-Percy Bysshe Shelley

My husband picks out most of the movies we watch. The Painted Veil with Edward Norton and Naomi Watts was beautifully done. Very moving. It was later that I learned that it was based on a book.

Kitty married Walter not out of love but of necessity. She needed out of her mother's house and he was available. But when she betrays his love with another man Walter is determined to punish her by taking her with him to a Chinese village with an outbreak of Cholera. Her time spent there will change her in ways she could never foresee.

At first the writing was a bit awkward. The dialog seemed like the script of an old black and white movie. Heard from Kitty's prospective the writing reflects how frivolous and immature she is. As her heart changes so does the writing style. I liked the writing style most of the time but occasionally there is a sentence that needed to be reworked; a clause written in the wrong place or something. A number of times I had to reread a sentence slowly before I understood what he was saying. This detracted from my enjoyment but only a little.

I had scenes from the film in my head as I read and it seemed like the book was following the movie pretty closely but then I hit a scene and thought, "Wasn't Walter supposed to be at this gather?" Then, "So when are Kitty and Walter going to visit the village together?" Then, "Wait! She doesn't make that revelation yet." Somewhere in the middle of the story there is a shift. The movie turns into a love story but the book is stuck in the unforgiving stage. The parts of the movie that I love the most don't exist in the book. But Kitty's development remains the same. After a while I forgave Maugham for writing a book differently than the movie I loved and saw the beauty that it held of its own accord. Maugham's creation is not as romantic but it is just as moving.


Sarah said...

I was quite impressed by the movie so will have to read this and see how it compares.

Charley said...

I really loved the movie, and I'd like to read the book at some point. I'm disappointed to hear the book is not as romantic, because I thought those moments in the movie were quite tender. Thanks for the review.

Jeane said...

It's always interesting to compare movie versions to books. I think the quality often depends on which came first. It's hard to remake a story and have it come out just as good. I've been learning, lately, to appreciate filmmakers who deviate from the original story and make it something of their own.

Carrie K said...

Interesting how the movie differs from the book. I do like watching the movies first.

Allison said...

The movie was really good, which I really wasn't expecting! Interesting to hear the book is a bit different then the movie, bummer about less romantic..Thanks for another book to be put on my TBR pile!

Sue said...

Like you, I recently saw the movie and loved it; and like you, was disappointed that there was no reconciliation in the book. I did like both, though, and read Up at the Villa also by Maugham. Unfortunately, Netflix doesn't have that DVD.

Petunia said...

Sarah-I hope you enjoy it.

Charley-That was my biggest disappointment but the book is really good on its own too.

Jeane-I have found quite a few movies that I like better than the books but I wish they would make as few changes as possible.

Carrie-Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. I guess it depends on the story and the types of changes made.

Allison-It's always a pleasure to introduce others to great books.

Sue-What did you think of Up at the Villa? It's good to know there are so many other books by this author.

Sue said...

In Maugham’s introduction to The Painted Veil he stated that it was (I believe) the only book he wrote that began with a plot idea rather than with a character. I saw that in Up at the Villa. Villa was good, the characters convincing, though the ending a bit pat. Have you read anything else by him?

Petunia said...

No, The Painted Veil was my first taste but you have me curious about what a character driven book looks like in comparison to a plot driven story. Just today I picked up Maugham's Rain and Other South Sea Stories. I'll have to dip into it this weekend.