Aug 4, 2019

Collected Short Stories

Vol. 4 
by W. Somerset Maugham

Thirty short stories. Surprisingly, I found Maughum's short stories really satisfying- they didn't leave me wishing a whole lot more or feeling adrift, like I usually do after reading short pieces.

Most of these stories take place in Malaya, during British rule, and are about Europeans stationed there, their wives and sometimes families. Several are situated in a nearby Asian countries, a few in America or England. They are all quite astute with character development and really intriguing, in spite of being so brief (a page or two, up to twenty in some cases). Sometimes it took me a while to get into the tale- often the crux of the subject is approached in a roundabout way- the narrator telling how he met a certain person, got a certain impression, had curiosity piqued, found out so much more later, here's the whole story wrapped up then, etc. They are about scandals, folks who have certain oddities, or get into troublesome situations by chance, or who do astonishing things that no one expected. Maugham himself said (in the intro) that he liked to write about people who were strange or got themselves into unusual circumstances, being more interesting than the majority who led quiet, ordinary lives. A lot are about women or men unfaithful to each other- some hiding it all their lives. Stories about men in different situations and how they struggled to get along with odious characters they had to work with. Quite a number grouped together about men in a French penal colony (reminded me immediately of Papillon). One quite unlike the others- more fairy-tale like in tone, about a princess with a wild nightingale she tamed, that her sisters convinced her to lock up in a cage . . . My favorite was the last one, about a young man who loved natural history and was sent to a remote place to work in a museum, went out into the jungle to find specimens, got into a pickle when his superior's wife began flirting with him. I did smile a lot when I ran into characters that loved books, in these pages. They stood out to me.

I wonder if most of these stories are based on real people or incidents the author heard about- it certainly sounds like he traveled about talking to and observing people, and then wrote based on that; I've heard tell it's more or less embellished fact. I borrowed this book from my brother-in-law while on holiday- it's the fourth volume of a complete collection of Maugham's short stories- someday I'd like to read all the others.

Rating: 4/5              464 pages, 1951

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