Should Your Book Club Read The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham?

Yes!  And if you’re not in a book club, poor soul that you are, you should still read this fabulous novel on your own.  It’s a beautiful, lyrical, thought-provoking book that I read in two days.  I would have finished it in one sitting, but I forced myself to slow down to enjoy the language and to think about the themes.  I loved this book.  I understand there’s a film out there based on the book, but I don’t think I’ll see it–I don’t want to ruin a good thing.

Warp-speed plot summary: 

Kitty, beautiful, spoiled Kitty has married fairly “well” in order not to be left on the shelf forever.  Walter, sweet, sincere, but achingly dull, has offered her a secure if not wildly passionate life in Hong Kong, where he is posted as a bacteriologist.  Once there, Kitty makes up for the lack of passion in her marriage through her adulterous affair with Charlie, the charming and handsome assistant colonial secretary, an appropriately glamorous post–much more exciting than being a bacteriologist.

However, in the opening scene–really one of the best opening scenes in literature, don’t you think?–Walter has found out about Kitty and her lover.  And, I won’t give more away, but Kitty ends up in the cholera-stricken area of China, where she is forced to deal with a life that doesn’t revolve around superficial beauty and charm–a life where Kitty will need to dig deep within herself to find resources that she may just not even have.

So, what can your book club discuss?

There are so many angles at which to approach this novel.  For one, it’s a love story.  You can discuss the different types of love in the novel and how they change.  That could take an entire evening!

There is spirituality and philosophy in the novel.  The characters have had to choose how they wish to live.  Which path is right?  Or is there a right path?  And how do we find that path? 

This novel is filled with deep questions.  What makes life worth living?  What is this novel saying about beauty?  What is it saying about morality?

The language of the novel is beautiful–I for one, am going to read more of W. Somerset Maugham–and you can dig into the imagery and symbolism.  What does the temple represent?  What does the title mean?  What does Walter’s enigmatic response to Kitty mean? 

You’ll of course want to discuss the characters and their relationships–all of them!

And you’ll want to ask yourselves–what is this book about?  What is it really about?  I think you’ll be amazed by the answers.

The more I think about it, the more I think I just may select this book for a future Literary Masters book group or salon!

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