August 28, 2008

Review: Rain

Rain and Other South Sea Stories
by W. Somerset Maugham

"The wise traveller travels only in imagination...........Those are the best journeys, the journeys that you take at your own fireside, for then you lose none of your illusions."

Poignant.

There are six short stories and two one-paragraph soliloquies in this collection. Each story takes place on the islands of the South Seas except for the last which is set near Honolulu and bears that island's name. Some are positive and some are negative to the way of life led in the islands among the natives and the English who oversee them. Written in 1921, the language is rich but peppered with disparaging comments about women and non-white men. I never mind much about such things because, well, this was the way the world was back then. But some could easily take offense at it.

Several of the stories start with a young man falling passionately in love with a virginal native girl. There is much emphasis on just how deep and true the love is for both parties, the couple often living in a state of heavenly ecstasy for a little while until slowly the love is drained away or found to have been more of a hypnosis caused by living in such a paradise. Each of the stories has a slightly different feel but all of them end with a sense that real love is not possible. The world will intrude upon it; our own sinful natures will corrode it. True love is an illusion that will inevitably be brought to light. It is quite a despairing way to look at the world.

William Somerset Maugham was an unhappy man in real life and this comes out unmistakably in his writing, at least it does in these stories. In The Painted Veil (which I reviewed here) love is hopelessly strangled but personal enlightenment and growth are still possible and give some hope to life.

If you don't mind a despairing view of life as long as it feels real or if you, like me, require well drawn characters above plot then you may enjoy this book. Two more Maugham titles await my attention from their perches on the bookshelf, Of Human Bondage and Up at the Villa. As Maugham was a prolific writer there will never be a shortage of good stories to read.

ETA-Upon rereading my review I realise that I sound negative towards the book. I love Maugham's descriptions and characters. He reminds me so much of Edith Wharton, another favorite author of mine. I tend to be drawn toward depressing literature in general so my review is really a positive one. Really.

3 comments:

Kathleen said...

Sounds interesting, I admit to being drawn towards it simply because of Honolulu and the South seas as the setting. I haven't read anything that I can think of that takes place there.

Wandering Jay said...

Hi, new blogger here, i took a quick peek on your book reviews, and was delighted to see some familiar and new titles. I'll take a mental note on some of the books for future readings, if i can find some precious time.

C. B. James said...

I've just recently discovered how much I like Edith Wharton. Perhaps I should check our Maugham, too.