The Painted Veil
Author: W. Somerset Maugham
American release date: 1963
Format/Genre/Length: Novel/Drama/238 pages
Publisher/Industry Age Rating: not rated
Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★
Kitty Fane and her husband of two years, bacteriologist Walter Fane, live in Hong Kong, where he works. Kitty basically married Walter not for love, because she doesn’t love him, but because being unmarried at the age of twenty-five had become unbearable, and her eighteen-year-old sister is about to get married before her. Plus Walter wants to get married as soon as possible because he has accepted a position in Hong Kong, which means Kitty can escape her family. So Kitty accepts Walter’s proposal and they go to Hong Kong, even if she doesn’t love him. He obviously dotes on her, that should be enough, right?
Except it isn’t, and she’s having an affair with Charlie Townsend, Assistant Colonial Secretary.
Charlie’s older than her, forty to her twenty-seven, and he’s youthful, charismatic and very handsome. However, when Kitty hears the handle to her bedroom being turned, she thinks that her husband has come home early, and he knows. What is she to do?
The Painted Veil is one woman’s journey into self-realization. Kitty begins as a very shallow woman who thinks nothing of cuckolding her husband. She justifies her actions to herself because she enjoys what she’s doing, and believes herself to be in love with Charlie, who is also married.
The discovery of the affair brings ugly truths to light and takes both Kitty and Walter far away. Can what is broken be fixed? Or is this a deliberate ploy on Walter’s part to bring about Kitty’s death?
Kitty comes face to face with harsh realities and how she responds to them is the heart of the book, with her soul-searching and her insights into the person she is. This novel is very character-driven in that the action isn’t fast-paced, and it isn’t highly emotionally charged. But it is deep, as you delve into Kitty’s psyche and follow her journey to awareness.
It gave me a lot to think about. I can’t say I necessarily liked Kitty, and everything we learn is from her point of view, so we never get a good glimpse into Walter’s head, or the other characters, such as Waddington, or the Mother Superior. But every person Kitty meets has their part to play in her development.
If you like Maugham, you’ll certainly like this. Perhaps his novels don’t move like freight trains, but they are very deep and intense in their own way. I do recommend this one. I’m going to check out the movie too, and see what they did with the novel.