Book Review: ‘The Moon & Sixpence’ by W. Somerset Maugham
Marvellous stuff! It’s such a joy to pick up a book like this, a book so fluid that it feels like it was written in a single sitting. I read it in less that 24 hours. For a book to be simultaneously a great work of literature and a page turner is almost unheard of. Classic novels are, by definition, heavyweight. Their subjects are meaty, and take time to digest. Not ‘The Moon & Sixpence‘ though. It’s subject matter is definitely meaty, but Maugham’s treatment of it makes digesting it as simple as drinking a glass of milk. And this despite the reader knowing well in advance exactly what’s going to happen.
You know what’s going to happen because the book charts the life of the painter Paul Gauguin. He gives Gauguin the fictional pseudonym Charles Strickland, and makes him English, but this is the thinnest cover story I have ever come across. He’s clearly Gauguin, and ‘The Moon & Sixpence’ is his poetic biography.
The portrayal is effortless. Gauguin comes across as a man of acute vision, sensitivity, and brute indifference. His dedication to his art is total, such that he has no interest in anything or anybody else. The consequence his actions have on others is of no interest to him. He paints, that is all. To portray such a man, so at odds with convention, with the clarity and insight that Maugham manages is a magnificent achievement. His prose is as fresh and as natural as a mountain stream. And you come away really feeling you really understand Gauguin, this monstrous genius, and a deep admiration for his achievements, despite his callousness, and without having noticing the engineering that delivered that understanding.
Maugham is a fabulous writer. Read this book as soon as you can.