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The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham Hardcover – 3 Sep 2009

4.5 out of 5 stars 44 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 624 pages
  • Publisher: John Murray; 1st Edition edition (3 Sept. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0719565545
  • ISBN-13: 978-0719565540
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 23.7 x 4.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 386,984 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description


'excellent...wholly convincing and always outstanding biography' (The Scotsman)

'[Hastings] provides a searing emotional history...her closing so powerfully written, in places so shocking, as to give a series of physical jolts to the reader. Hastings's book cannot be bettered' (Sunday Telegraph, Richard Davenport-Hines)

'One of the fascinating pleasures of this superb biography [is] to see the veils being stripped away and the messy truth about Maugham's life and relationships exposed...Hastings recounts the mass of detail and the massive literary output with great sagacity and the sharpest of eyes' (The Guardian, William Boyd)

'[Hasting's] superior, marvellously rich synthesis of so many resources...produces a narrative that is strikingly clear yet never reductive. It's a gripping, often sensational account of a singular life, gaining pathos in its closing descriptions of the senile Maugham's manipulations by Searle' (The Independent, Richard Canning)

'The places and people she describes are portrayed with such graphic clarity and assurance. She sets a scene or establishes a personality with great economy and intensity' (The Observer, William Boyd)

'Engrossing...a brilliant evocation' (Financial Times Weekend, Jackie Wullschlager)

'A remarkable book, sympathetic and sardonic, comic and tragic, serious and naughty' (Telegraph Review, Michael Bloch)

Selina Hastings has done an excellent job...Hastings has managed to humanise Maugham without ever attempting to gloss over his defects... Her characterisations are sharp, her judgement sound and her grasp of narrative as sure as her subject's, (Evening Standard)

'Hastings has teased out the complicated chronicle...and offers a fuller picture then ever of [Maugham]' (The Independent, John Walsh)

'The best parts of Hasting's engrossing book are her descriptions of Maugham as a young literary man on the make...a sensitive and sympathetic biography' (The Sunday Times (Culture), Robert Harris)

'Her [Selina Hasting's] admirable new book,' (Independent on Sunday, Sholto Byrnes)

'An outstanding biography...replete with insights and asides, perceptive synopses and analyses of the work and, for those who want it, an abundance of salacious scurrility, this is a tale that would have held Maugham's attention from start to finish' (The Irish Times, Robert O'Byrne)

'This steady-eyed biography of an extraordinary, extravagant, generous and bitter artist will not only fascinate its readers but encourage some to go to his work for the first time' (Times Literary Supplement, Jeremy Treglown)

'Every so often, a biography appears of such authority and such power that it is more than a chronicle of a human life, it is a work of art...brilliant...such is Selina Hasting's skill that this horrible story is richly enjoyable' (Reader's Digest, A. N. Wilson)

'Selina Hastings' excellent biography, perceptive, well-written and with a happy turn of phrase' (The Spectator, Juiet Townsend)

'Hastings narrates it with relish and fairness, in roughly equal proportions, giving somewhat dutiful space to Maugham's literary achievements before excitedly leaping back into the fray of greed, sex and violence' (The Mail on Sunday, Craig Brown)

'Hasting's talent as a biographer is to create three-dimensional novelists...her Life of Maugham is pitch-perfect: supple, confident and written with something of the same beady detachment (and enjoyable signature streak of malice) as the great tale-teller himself' (The Daily Telegraph, Telegraph Review, Nicholas Shakespeare)

' All this is chronicled brilliantly by Selina Hastings, whose research, empathy and style cannot be impressively perceptive and often moving account of an extraordinarily interesting man' (Literary Review (Diana Athill))

'A biographer who is second to none...The result is nothing less than a triumph...Hastings shares some of her subject's best literary attributes...Be warned: once picked up, this excellent biography is impossible to put down,' (The Herald)

'Well written, continuously interesting, generous and fair' (Standpoint, Alan Massie)

'The strength of Hasting's book lies in its refusal to simplify a complex man' (Intelligent Life, Peter Beech)

'A definitive biography...,' (Saga Magazine)

If anyone can bring clarity to this complex man it is this most lucid and perceptive of biographers (Bookseller)

Praise for EVELYN WAUGH by Selina Hastings (:)

'Perceptive, witty and beautifully written' (Daily Mail)

'She has written a sympathetic and highly intelligent book, which also - rarity of rarities these days - reads rapidly. It is sympathetic also because . . . the author adores gossip' (Daily Telegraph)

'Entertaining, delightful and rewarding . . . The narrative is at once gripping and thoughtful on every page' (Mail on Sunday)

'Her style is supremely elegant and her eye for detail brings dazzle and wit to every page . . . This is a monumental book' (Independent on Sunday)

'A brilliant, three-dimensional portrait' (Country Life)

Praise for ROSAMOND LEHMANN by Selina Hastings (:)

'Mischief, gossip, acuity and admiration - and not to be missed' (Sunday Times)

'A gorgeous piece of work . . . exactly right for its subject: fast-paced, vivid, bursting with characters, gossip and emotions, a book you want to gobble up . . . A fine and compelling biography' (Hermione Lee, Observer)

'I can think of few biographies that are as un-put-downable as a novel, but Selina Hastings has produced one: fluidly elegant, witty, detached yet utterly gripping' (Spectator)

'Literary biography could hardly be better done.' (The Spectator)

'Selina Hastings has coped manfully with the task of summarising Maugham's huge oeuvre without distracting her readers from his long and eventful life' (The Oldie)

'The year's best biography by far' (Sunday Express)

Book Description

The authoritative biography of one of the twentieth century's greatest and most popular writers

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Was very much looking forward to this book, expecting it would provide interesting company for a couple of weeks: it was so completely enthralling, that I could barely put it down and finished it in 3 days. Selina Hastings gives the life of Somerset Maugham a grandeur which -on this evidence- it surely deserves.

A grandeur derived from Maugham's unprecedented worldwide success as a writer, but derived also from the desolating anguish that so often attached to his private emotional existence (much of which at the time had to be concealed).

Hastings, as a biographer, is very self-effacing, cool in her assessments, and almost never intrudes between her reader and the life being described.

The history of Somerset Maugham's disrupted childhood, tortured marriage, and sometimes tormented sexual relationships, is not short of the kind of pain and unresolvable dilemmas that Maugham frequently depicts in his novels and stories (and which are arguably his chief literary theme.) "He was a fearfully emotional man, sexually", one woman said.

In Hastings' account of this life, the fame and wealth he achieved through his success provided satisfactions he enjoyed, but, particularly towards the end of his life, they became a two-edged sword.

It is thrilling to read about Maugham's purposeful determination, as a young man, to succeed as a writer, first with his plays and then with the stories and novels. Hastings describes his later journeys to imperial outposts such as Malaya in search of literary ideas, with an absorbing sense of adventure.

Maugham's eventful life covered almost a century and it feels almost epic, but it has to be said that the end of this story is heartbreaking stuff, very disturbing, leaving this reader at least with a sense of disquiet.
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Format: Hardcover
I bought this biography on the basis of the superb reviews it had recieved in the press without really knowing too much about Somerset Maugham. I was not disappointed, I can't recall reading a better biography ever and I have read many.

Maugham was a fascinating charcater hugely successful both critically and commercially as a writer of plays, short stories and novels in the first half of the twentieth centuary though he seems to have dropped of the radar in recent decades. He was gayer than a 1970's San Francican bathouse at a time when it was illegal, had a string of lovers, mainly male, but with time to fit in a marriage from hell and a spell as a secret agent for the British government.

This is a brilliantly told story of a fascinating man and life, it has that great quality of being both erudite and easy to read. Even if you have little interest in Somerset Maugham to start with you will thoughly enjoy the book as has all the readability of a great novel. Can't recommend it too highly.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a beautifully crafted and detailed story about a fascinating man. Totally bi-sexual, and with no embarassment about his preferences, he lived a life of luxury and privelige whilst producing a huge body of work - some of it quite controversial. It seems amazing that in the times when homosexuality was illegal, he got away with having a string of male lovers, and also managed to seduce a number of attractive women. Apart from his debauchery, he was able to record his travels in most places of the world, in particular the Far East, and his travel writing was as highly regarded as his plays and novels. Despite his personal life, he numbered amongst his friends Winston Churchill and H G Wells and combined his literary life with that of a secret agent during the war. Extraordinary, and so very well written. A long book, but a pleasure to read.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Despite its tabloid-like title, this book reveals little about the "secret lives" of Maugham. In fact so much of it - particularly the early part - is so dependent on Maugham's own writings that it is more of a potted "autobiography" than a biography. Anyone familiar with Maugham's works will find little that is new or of interest here. For example, the period when he was allegedly a "spy" in Switzerland and Russia (so well portrayed in "Ashenden") uncovers absolutely nothing. The "secret" that Maugham was a homosexual despite being married with a child has always been common knowledge and is hardly shocking in today's world where homosexuality is widely tolerated.

The writing is dull, with a quirky use of odd words, e.g. "ectopic", "vatic" and "prelapsarian", and enough padding in the form of plot summaries to swell it by about one-third. It has the feel of a commissioned work with lots of copying and pasting and no original research despite the long list of names in the Acknowledgements.

Unsourced material appears without question. For example, did Maugham really express happiness when his wife, Syrie, died because he would no longer have to pay alimony? This old chestnut has been repeated for over half a century. There is also a ludicrous statement that Syrie's first husband beat a child to death.

Maugham's travels are treated either in by quoting from his works or summed as superficially as the writers' treatment of her subject. How about this "From Guatemala City they sailed to Hue in Indo-China continuing from there to Saigon, where they boarded a Messageries Maritime ship to Marseilles". We learn the name of the shipping line but nothing about what Maugham did on trip that virtually covered the entire globe.
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