DATE PUBLISHED: 1919
DATE READ: September 2010 (audiobook)
NOTES: Inspired by Gauguin, this is the fascinating story of Charles Strickland. Strickland has the ambition to paint (but only in his own inconventional and idiosyncratic way) and develops such a passion for this that he is unable to think of anything else. He leaves his family (with no apparent guilt) and lives a life of poverty in Paris, Marseilles and Tahiti. He shows no feelings for anyone around him but at the same times evokes compassion and admiration in others. Strickland is obsessed by his art but not in any resulting commercial value.
The book has an interesting construction. It is narrated by an honest admirer – sometimes describing what he has observed but often via a third person. It is a very compelling story – despite the fact that Maugham ensures that there is little endearing in Strickland’s character. His actions reveal him to be savage, misogynistic and unfeeling. As the narrator says: “Strickland was an odious man – but I still think he was a great one.” The reader is left with some interesting questions. Does a great talent excuse wicked behaviour? Is a genius governed by a different set of morals than us lesser beings?
A compelling story.