Looking out upon the backstreets, the suburbs and the high society haunts of Edwardian London, the delightfully witty and independent spinster Miss Ley surveys a tangled web of lives; she sympathetically observes the struggle under the pressures of convention, and the complex interplay between love and reason. Through Miss Ley's eyes we witness the brief but happy marriage of a dying poet; a woman's adulterous passion for a young rascal; and finally, an honourable man's decision to take virtue to extremes.
William Somerset Maugham (25 January 1874 - 16 December 1965) was an English playwright, novelist and short story writer. He was among the most popular writers of his era and reputedly the highest paid author of the 1930s. Maugham was orphaned by the age of ten, but after an unhappy childhood, he flourished when he moved to London to study medicine as a young man, giving him plenty of inspiration for his literary ambitions. His first novel, Liza of Lambeth, sold out in a matter of weeks, prompting Maugham to leave medicine and embark on a 65-year career as a man of letters. By 1914 he was famous, with ten successful plays produced and ten novels published. In 1917, he was asked by the British Secret Intelligence Service (now MI6) to undertake a special mission in Russia; an experience which would go on to inspire Ashenden, a collection of short stories about a gentlemanly spy that influenced Ian Fleming's James Bond series. Maugham's most famous works include Of Human Bondage, a semiautobiographical novel, The Moon and Sixpence, Cakes and Ales and The Razor's Edge. His writing has inspired a string of over 35 film adaptations and has influenced many notable authors, including Anthony Burgess, George Orwell and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
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"Maugham was one of the great masters of clever narrative and construction." (Allan Massie, Sunday Herald)
"A formidable talent, a formidable sum of talents." (Spectator)
"It is very difficult for a writer of my generation, if he is honest, to pretend indifference to the work of Somerset Maugham.... He was always so entirely there." (Gore Vidal)
I love WSM and read all his books, plays and short stories in my teens and 20s. Now and again, I am reliving these by re-reading (or listening to) some of the books. Ideally I'd be able to listen to an unabridged version of 'Of Human Bondage' but cannot find one, at least not on audible.
I had just finished (and loved) The Goldfinch, so I needed a change of pace. I certainly got that!
The Merry Go Round is a series of overlapping and extended short stories. The central character doesn't really have a big part to play, but she is the focus for the other players as she is involved with, or knows, them all. So we go off for while and get engrossed in the story of two or three characters; then this story is 'parked' and we set off with another set of people before coming back to the old story line. This worked very well for me.
The thing with WSM is the clearly defined sense of time and place. This book is of its era, its class and its social standards. So you do have to be in the mood for a time-piece, and get yourself in the mindset of the author and the characters you will meet. It's snobbish, even prudish, perhaps, by today's standards. But the charm lies in the way he evokes that era.
The narration is good. Some of the voices assumed are a bit annoying - but then, this seemed to go with annoying characters of which there are several...!
Very much enjoyed my fairly short excursion into Edwardian London society.
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