124 of 128 people found the following review helpful
The Meaning of (One) Life,
By A Customer
This review is from: Of Human Bondage (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
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.