65 Short Stories (W Somerset Maugham)

coverI think astrology and karma play a major role in whether someone is born to be a writer or not. By that I mean a creativity that cannot be learned by conscious techniques or formal education etc. The person concerned is usually moved internally to share something large with the world. And W Somerset Maugham was born to enthrall and entertain people with the written word. It was fate. Like some other literary titans, Charles Dickens and Jules Verne, he was an Aquarius. They usually possess personal charisma that effortlessly draws others to them, originality in their field of work, and are very broad-minded.

There are some writers who once you sample their works, you cannot resist until you have covered a fair share of it. With Somerset Maugham, the challenge is both thrilling as well daunting. Thrilling because here an author I am so happy I discovered and someone with whom I almost feel a kindred spirit – in terms of the themes he takes up and his so called cynicism – which is really not cynicism, but a certain astounding ability to discern human weaknesses. He’s realistic about people, knowing well that human beings are inconsistent and complex. Also, he realized that seemingly incongruous traits can exist in the same person. He has the ability to make men into monsters and monsters into men.

The most memorable stories in this collection are those that deal with Western/British colonists in the Far East and Pacific Islands. The stories revolving around this subject are often wry and ironic, beautiful descriptions of the exoticism of the foreign climes and the mental isolation that such geography provokes in Maugham’s character. The best of these stories exploit the boiling tensions, the understated violence and the sweat and grime of non-English landscapes. In ‘Rain’, we meet a Catholic missionary falling from grace as the devil wins him over. ‘Before the Party’ is a striking revelation by a respectable and well settled woman who murders her own husband in cold blood. In ‘P & O’, a man embarks on a journey back home. He is cursed by a native that he will not complete it. I felt relaxed reading the opening few pages of this. Then the mood turned grim and I was on tenterhooks until the end. A sobering tale! There are many more stories that will grip you like these.

In all his works Somerset Maugham expounds on the vagaries of human nature, sometimes beyond comprehension of common sense. The most striking thing about his works is the fact that he like most of us, looks for answers to comprehend the most complex of all things : human behaviour.Above all, he never judges. You can sense the big picture that the story hangs on. This prevented Maugham from either eulogizing a person too much or berating the evilness in him. According to Maugham, he could never judge anyone too harshly or be too shocked by sin, precisely because he was guilt-ridden about many things himself and understood only too well that perfection is a myth and that we all live extremely flawed lives.

Here’s a sweet quote from the author: “I take the goodness of the good for granted, and I am amused when I discover their defects or their vices. I am touched when I see the goodness of the wicked, and I am willing enough to shrug a tolerant shoulder at their wickedness.” 🙂

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