I picked this book up after I saw it named a top read of 2010 on a few different blogs. I was certainly not disappointed. Not only was a not disappointed, I absolutely adored this novel. This is one of those treasures that I'm not sure I would have come across if I weren't part of this lovely little book blogging community. Anyhow, this book follows Kitty Fane, a young women who has knowingly married the wrong man out of fear of never marrying. As a bacteriologist, she finds him boring and acts indifferent to his affection. Upon their marriage they move to Hong Kong where he takes up work. After she is caught in an affair a few years later, her husband forces her to accompany him to Mei-tan-fu, the heart of a cholera epidemic. He will go to study the disease in hopes of a cure, and she will accompany him. Of course Kitty feigns poor me, this is no place for a woman. What is she to do in Mei-tan-fu?
But here is what makes this book so great - it's really about two different women; Kitty Fane the woman who can't get enough of herself and the small world she lives in and Kitty Fane the woman who understands there is a bigger picture than what she first thought - one that offers her room to grow into a better person. Of course none of us can completely change for the better; there will always be some fragment of vanity and frivolity, no matter how fleeting, in all of us. But we can do our best to perpetuate positive, meaningful actions in our future, and I think this is what The Painted Veil is about.
Though Kitty allowed no shadow to show on her face, in her heart she laughed. Much she cared what anyone thought of her now!Of course this theme sounds trite but I promise you, this book is anything but. Maugham's writing is truly lovely and his ability to convey ideas without hitting the reader over the head with them is refreshing. This is a book about the human ability to grow and change for the better. It reminds us that there is more to our lives than what we experience on an average day and there is more to the world than the small part in which we live. It highlights the power of beauty and freedom and the importance death places on life.
I think The Painted Veil would be a fantastic choice for a book club, as there is much to discuss. Not to mention the movie adaption that was made in 2006, which I'm off to hunt down immediately.
Publisher: Vintage, 1925