This is a complex novel, more complex than it might seem from the smooth and story-driven style. It is quite a long book, running to some 700 pages in the edition I read. But it is thought-provoking, and it stays with you after you have finished reading it.

The plot is biographical, following the childhood, adolescence and early manhood of the main character, Philip Carey. The story is told from his perspective but Maugham cleverly invites us to consider his faults as well as his strengths. By the end, he has built up a portrait of a complex, contradictory but very human character. Sometimes, one thinks ‘what an arse’, when Philip gets things wrong. But we think that all the time, in real life, even about people we admire. And the book is, in that sense, very realistic.

There were one or two points in the middle of the book when I thought it was a bit long-winded and repetitive – but these passed quickly. The style is not spare and while Maugham is not profligate with words, there is no sense that he feels the need for economy.

The themes of the book that came through for me were class, the stifling of humanity by convention, the horrors of poverty and the value of art to a rounded personality.

A very good book indeed.

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