This month's literary odyssey took me to Singapore, World War II-era England, and the inner workings of a Russian literary genius' mind.
The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham. Set against the backdrop of 1920's Singapore, The Painted Veil (which I've mentioned here before) is a redemption plot about the young, beautiful, and intensely shallow Kitty who marries the wrong man, has an affair with another, is caught, and is subsequently forced to accompany her bacteriologist husband into the heart of a cholera epidemic. Is her husband conspiring to kill her? Will the cholera take her life before her husband does? Or can Kitty survive it and possibly redeem herself? I haven't enjoyed a book this much in quite awhile. Maugham is a superb story-teller: he has a real knack for eliciting sympathy for his characters and sets a great pace to the story (another great character book by Maugham: Of Human Bondage). I like the literal and symbolic journey Kitty goes on, though the ending leans a little toward the saccharine. Still, it was satisfying, and I feel the story has held up remarkably well considering it was written nearly a hundred years ago. I really recommend.
Good Evening, Mrs. Craven: The Wartime Stories of Mollie Panter-Downes. These twenty-one short stories were written between 1939 and 1944 for The New Yorker. During this time, Panter-Downes wrote book reviews, a regular column called "Letter from London", and over thirty short stories about English domestic life. Unearthed for the first time since their original publication date over fifty years ago, these stories endure as perfectly intact snapshots of war-time England, when families were torn asunder, homes were shattered, and a stiff upper lip was the rule of the day. For life simply must go on.
A Confession by Leo Tolstoy. This is a memoir of Tolstoy's spiritual crisis and his disillusionment and subsequent turning away from the religious orthodoxy of his youth. I appreciate and felt inspired by the journey and Tolstoy's probing questions about the meaning of life, though the ending leaves a lot to be desired (I felt somewhat unsatisfied and confused, for nothing was resolved). It's a quick read and I'd recommend it to any Tolstoy fan or anyone in a particularly pensive and philosophical mood. The edition I read is from the Penguin Great Ideas series and it's basically a design-lover's dream. You can see the stunning cover for yourself, along with the other gorgeous book covers from the series, right here.
Coming up: a recently published book that has been nabbing awards left and right and then whatever suits my fancy, really. Nose back to the reading grindstone now....