Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Painted Veil by Somerset Maugham

I haven't written anything about best books in a while, and my fans (all four of you, bless your hearts) are asking why not. The answer is, of course, time and laziness. Life has gotten a little busier--I've joined the hurly burly working world (and am the better for it), but when I have a free moment, I'd rather do anything but write. My reading time has diminished too, but I did manage to read Somerset Maugham's The Painted Veil this week. [I'm a fan of the 2007 movie version with Edward Norton (ooh la la) and Naomi Watts in the roles of Dr. Walter Fane and his wife, Kitty.] A spoiled debutante who's afraid she's past her prime, Londoner Kitty G. agrees to marry taciturn bacteriologist Walter Fane, who is totally smitten with her. As promised, he whisks her away from her dull life to Hong Kong where she promptly begins an affair with a suave government official. Kitty is disdainful of her husband, and when he discovers her infidelity, she doesn't conceal her scorn for him--his lackluster personality, subpar status, and pitiful devotion to her--and wants nothing more than to dismiss him and marry her lover. Kitty is naive in the ways of men, however, and she soon has no choice but to join Walter on a trip to a remote Chinese village, his ultimatum for her unfaithfulness. Walter has basically sentenced them both to death since the village is deeply infected with cholera. What happens to the couple in this village is transformational; stated simply, both learn about forgiveness under the harshest of conditions. The movie's ending differs from the book's. I must say I prefer the cinematic version--it's straightforward and sexy. The book's conclusion is a tad enigmatic, but essentially presents the same message: love without forgiveness is child's play.

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