June 19, 2008

Books: The Moon & Sixpence by W. Somerset Maugham

A novel I first read this some twenty years ago, 'The Moon & Sixpence' tells the story of Charles Strickland, a rather straight-laced stockbroker who, at the age of around forty, suddenly leaves his wife and children and heads to Paris, and later Tahiti, in order to become a painter.

Inspired by the life of Paul Gauguin, Somerset Maugham's short novel is an insightful view at the world of an obsessive genius. Strickland himself comes across initially as dull and later as an immensely unlikable character concerned only with his own interests and search for the ultimate artistic experience. This may put some readers off, though it has to be said that many creative geniuses, be they artists, musicians or otherwise, are often not particularly pleasant individuals and seem somewhat self-centred and forceful compared to the average person. Maugham, master observer of human nature that he was, portrayed this side of creative genius very well, and the novel is a fantastic read.

One other thing which is notable is that, with the possible exception of Dirk Stroeve, a fellow painter with limited talent who helps Strickland in Paris, there are no really likable characters at all in the novel, which is a pretty damning comment on Edwardian society from the author. A wonderful novel that I'm sure I'll come back to once more in the future.

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