1 Followers
3 Following
apatt

Book Ramblings

Long winded reviews

Currently reading

Kiln People
Beth Meacham, David Brin

Of Human Bondage

Of Human Bondage - Maeve Binchy, Benjamin DeMott, W. Somerset Maugham So I have been living with this book for almost ten days. Not so much reading it as living with it or perhaps even living in it. It is strange that I was led to read this novel by [a: Philip K. Dick|4764|Philip K. Dick|https://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1264613853p2/4764.jpg]’s science fiction novel [b: Dr. Bloodmoney|636108|Dr. Bloodmoney|Philip K. Dick|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1355321708s/636108.jpg|880666] where Of Human Bondage is mentioned quite a few times. I have also noticed that this book is ranked at 44 in the Guardian’s “The 100 best novels” list, so that clinched it for me.

A more direct (but inelegant) title for Of Human Bondage would be “The Life and Times of Philip Carey” because that is basically what it is. A “Bildungsroman” chronicling the life of the novel’s protagonist from his childhood to his adulthood, in a similar vein to Dickens’ classic [b: David Copperfield|58696|David Copperfield|Charles Dickens|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1309281852s/58696.jpg|4711940]. What a life though! I was hooked pretty much from the first chapter to the last. The book is fairly long at 684 pages, but not a single page is wasted as far as I am concerned. It is not divided into major parts like most long novels but it could have been, the parts would cover his childhood and school years, his life as an art student, his life as a medical student, Mildred!, his destitution, his recovery and redemption. Among the episodes of his life Mildred looms as the largest figure. Described by Philip Carey at one point as “that vile woman” Mildred somehow manages to derail Carey’s life whenever she appears. He falls madly – and inexplicably – in love with her while she is happy to string him along for the convenience. His obsession is in explicable even to himself:
“He did not care if she was heartless, vicious and vulgar, stupid and grasping, he loved her. He would rather have misery with one than happiness with the other.”
“The other” referred to in the above quote is Norah Nesbit, a kindly, loving and intelligent woman Carey meets after Mildred seems to have gone out of his life and helps him to rebound. Unfortunately Mildred comes back into his life and he immediately dumps poor Norah.

His crazed passion for a girl who is obviously extremely bad for him (or any man) makes me want to strangle Philip sometime, as if he is a real person. That is worth italicizing because it is the chief strength of this powerful novel, everything feels so real and vivid. The novel is clearly a character study of Philip Carey, Mildred and other colorful characters he comes across. The reader lives inside Carey’s head, feeling his pain, his shame and even his insane passion. Mildred is something of a femme fatale but she is so well depicted by Maugham that you cannot really blame her for the cruel treatment of Carey. She is unsophisticated and cold, but she never even pretended to love Carey, in spite of being well aware of this he is swept along by his own mad passion. She is who she is and makes no pretense of being virtuous. Any semi-sensible person would stay well away from her, but Philip Carey is not anywhere near the neighborhood of sensibility when she is around.

Beside his disastrous dalliance with Mildred, Carey also makes quite a few more extremely bad choices, throwing caution to the wind unnecessarily, at one point he almost dies of starvation! This is a much more painful novel to read than [b: David Copperfield|58696|David Copperfield|Charles Dickens|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1309281852s/58696.jpg|4711940] because Carey is a deeply flawed human being. Phil does mean well generally, his mistakes stem from searching for himself throughout most of the book, often barking up the wrong tree. He does not know what he really want until the very last page. You cannot help but root for him a little.

The ending is very nice if a little too pat, W. Somerset Maugham is no [a: Thomas Hardy|15905|Thomas Hardy|https://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1429946281p2/15905.jpg] so I finished the book with an added spring in step. One day I am going to rewind it all and go through the wringer with Philip Carey again. Before that I will certainly read more [a: W. Somerset Maugham|4176632|W. Somerset Maugham|https://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1414096390p2/4176632.jpg].
____________________________________
Note on the audio book: Very nicely read by Tom Weiss, for free as part of Librivox’s collection (download link). Thank you sir!