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on 10 February 2003
Of Human Bondage traces the life of Philip Carey from childhood to grown man. Too much happens in this novel to recount - it does, after all, deal with one man's life; but what I can say is that it is one of the most remarkable books I have read in a long while. It is sparingly, but exquisitely written. Wholly unsentimental, yet bursting with depth of feeling. Born with a club foot and orphaned from an early age, Carey is physically set apart from his fellows. Rather than seeking to make himself included, he deals with the cruelty and thoughtlessness of others by emotionally setting himself apart, thus fuelling his own sense of 'difference'. With the exhuberance of youth, in the pursuit of his own difference and yearning for passion and inspiration, he abandons his studies to travel, first to Heidelberg, and then to Paris, where he nurses ambitions of being a great artist. Maugham beautifully captures the idealism of youth which is slowly eroded as the protagonist comes to recognise his own mediocrity and lack of importance in the world. It is also a powerful study of a character brought up in the shadow of religion and who comes to understand himself, and others, only at the expense of his faith. Maugham's greatest achievement in this book is the character of Carey himself: complex, insecure, self-protective and arrogant, he is outwardly not the most sympathetic of people, and is most definitely not a hero. Yet his internal life is so richly drawn, so deftly developed, that one cannot help but care deeply for him. Through happiness, tragedy and suffering, he comes to realise that he is like all other men and yet resolutely himself, which is what makes him different from all other men. And so at the heart of this book lies the eternal riddle of existence, captured in passages which literally took my breath away. Highly recommended.
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on 12 August 2008
An absolutely superb book. Having read and loved George Orwell and discovered he was a fan Maugham I decided to have a look at Of Human Bondage. Having finished it and given myself some time to reflect, I can say that it is the best book that I have read so far. I was so drawn in to the story of Philip Carey and his journey into adulthood that the 700+ pages flew by. I will also echo the sentiments of other reviewers that despite the fact that Philip could not by any means be described as a hero I still found myself caring for him and always hoping for a positive outcome even when the situation seemed so very bleak for him. This I think is one of the books strengths that despite the actions of the characters they are so well written that I still found myself wanting the best for them even Mildred.

I would highly recommend this book and consider it one of the classic pieces of literature which deserves to have been read by a much larger audience.
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on 4 April 2008
Of Human Bondage is quintessential Somerset Maugham and is, or should be, one of the classics of English literature. Don't be put off by its length; you will only wish it were longer by the time you finish it!

The book is set in the last decades of the nineteenth century and, apparently partly autobiographical, it tells of the growing up of a young orphan, his apprenticeship of art and then medicine and of course his painful tuition in love. Philip, the hero, is initially raised in an English country vicarage, the life of which is described with fetching authenticity. In fact, its realistic evocation of exotic settings, a typical feature of Maugham's writing, is one of the novel's undoubted attractions. Philip moves on to Heidelberg, then Paris among a community of artistic hopefuls and painting schools, and back to turn-of-the-century London, with its contrast of glitter and squalor, its top hats and workers' dorms, music halls and stockbrokers' clubs. There he becomes trapped in a tragic and sordid love affair that becomes so compulsive it threatens to enslave him.

If the hero's unrequited obsession is alluded to in the title, however, Of Human Bondage has a broader scope. Indeed it is - well - about life; but if that sounds pretentious, this is probably one of few works that can genuinely make that claim. The cast of characters is impressive in being both broad and convincing, and sufficient plot is granted each so that they can come alive. True, Maugham's sometimes acid, always witty and insightful style is at its best when portraying human faults. Purely positive archetypes are given briefer and just a little less compelling descriptions; but perhaps that is just reality. Few novels are able to bring forth such a variety of places, people and situations so convincingly and with such depth. Ultimately the test for this sweeping portrait is that one feels one has stood in it many more times than once, so strong is the association with its protagonists. And if you have occasionally fallen for an idiot who wasn't interested in you, then reading this may provide a cure.
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on 22 April 2007
Although I relish a book like this, in that it is so well written and truly entertaining and there is a certain thrill and delight one receives when you know you are part of that small club of coming across a book of this brillance - a book not many other people have read or even know about, which on the other hand is unfortunate as I believe this book deserve a place on everyones bookshelf. The narrative rarely faulters if at all, this is truly a book of epic perportions full of passion, love, loss, hopes realised and hope dashed, a book about the strenght of the human spirit and how even when those around you drain all the goodness from you, you can still return love. Buy and read this book and you won't be disappointed.
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on 12 July 1999
After an accident, I had a lot of time on my hands, and began to catch up on great classics. I picked up Of Human Bondage and couldn't put it down. Through the experiences of Philip Carey, I saw that I, like him, could do better with my life if I took charge and lived up to my potential. The fire the book generated stayed with me, and a few months later I quit my unsatisfying job and returned to college. To me, that's one of the marks of a great book: it makes you think and then act on what you learned.
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I first read this book many years ago and it has been interesting to re-read it. Most notably because I could remember so much about it, despite the length of time between re-visiting the story. This is a huge book, both in scope and in length. It concerns the life of Philip Carey, from his childhood to manhood and encompasses many events and themes. The book begins with the death of Philip's beloved mother and his going to live with his uncle and aunt. In a sense he is taken from romance and frippery to the genteel poverty which shadows him throughout his life.

On reading this novel again, I was surprised at just how meandering it was - we read of schooldays and bullying (Philip has a club foot and his deformity makes him overly sensitive throughout much of his life), varying career paths, years in Paris attempting to be an artist, life as a medical student and several love stories. The central and dominant affair though is that with Mildred Rogers; tall and thin, insolent and rude, of a lower social class and with whom he becomes utterly besotted.

This is W. Somerset Maugham's most personal and autobiographical novel and it is both ambitious and wide ranging. I hesitate to say this, but I imagine any author would have problems getting a novel like this published today, which is a shame. For although it is very long and despite the fact that no particular character, including that of Philip himself, is totally sympathetic, it is a book that will stay with you. Maugham was a great author and this is a true classic.
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on 8 March 2009
I finished reading this book early one Sunday morning, the sun shining outside in a blue sky, after a grey day full of drizzle the day before. The book has left me feeling that new starts are possible, that the world can be a good place, a beautiful place. I sometimes struggle with things and for a book to cause me to feel that way is really quite wonderful. It's a long book and very heavy on narrative. Hence it took me a while to read and I've put it down twice, reading two books in between. But I was pulled back to it because Maugham drew his main character so well and placed him in such settings that I needed to find out what happened to him. There's no plot as such and earlier in the book I felt that great swathes of it could have been cut with no detriment to the story, but as I neared the end I realised that the whole purpose of the book is to depict the developments in a man's life, over his first thirty years, the various experiences he had, good and bad, which moulded him into the person he became. Very enjoyable, enlightening, uplifting, inspiring.
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on 20 April 2008
An absolute wonder of a book. The story revolves around Philip, an orphan with a club foot who searches hard for his place in the world. We witness the isolation of his early youth and his battle with mediocrity as he struggles to become an artist in Paris. He finds a vocation of sorts in medicine and there we witness his battles with poverty and being the victim of falling in love with the most terrible of people. If the book has a flaw it is his all consuming love affair.

There are traces of Jude Obscure in this book; however this novel is far superior and there are some discourses of real beauty. As with all of Maugham's work the writing is superb and you're drawn in from the first chapter. An absolute must read.
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on 31 October 2006
Of Human Bondage is a ridiculously good novel, one which receives nowhere near the amount of credit and acclaim it deserves. The accuracy and skill with which Maugham describes Philip Carey's idealism, his subsequent disenchantment and his relationship with Mildred inparticularly (a glorious femme fatale)is astonishining, touching and haunting.

Maugham has been criticised for the lack of poeticism in his prose, a "flaw" he acknowledged himself. However, his writing is precise, lively and insightful, without been overly embroidered or wordy, and this benefits the reader no end in Of Human Bondage. Central themes and important passages have more impact and are believable and human, inviting much consideration and empathy.

All in all, this is a most wonderful novel, undoubtedly one of my favourites and I can't reccomend it highly enough. Enjoy!
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on 27 August 1998
Maugham's semi-autobiography. Incredibly well written. Holds your interest from beginning to end. You will think about it for a long time afterword.
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