Thoughts on books, family, and life in one impressive package.
Book Cover Image: Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham

Title:  Of Human Bondage

Author: W. Somerset Maugham

No. of Pages:  623

First Released:  1915 

Synopsis (Courtesy of B&N): “From an orphan with a clubfoot, Philip Carey grows into an impressionable young man with a voracious appetite for adventure and knowledge. Then he falls obsessively in love, embarking on a disastrous relationship that will change his life forever.”

Comments and Critique:  That synopsis is so inadequate, but honestly I have no idea how to improve it.  To state that this book is about love is a gross understatement.  In addition, this book is not just a coming-of-age novel.  I would say that the main theme is relationships – to friends, to family, to the opposite sex, to yourself.  Equal parts philosophical and dramatic, Maugham requires the reader to reexamine his or her own relationships throughout one’s life, bringing to life both painful and joyful memories. 

Philip is very much a flawed main character.  He is overly sensitive and boorish, snobbish and elitist.  He struggles to form lasting relationships with others and constantly lets his clubfoot impact those relationships.  Even worse, he has a delusional opinion of love that gets him constantly in trouble.  And yet, the reader feels tremendous sympathy for Philip because we have all been in Philip’s shoes at some point in time in our lives.  Everyone has had experience being overly sensitive or boorish, snobbish or elitist.  We have all had at least one bad, unhealthy love interest or friendship.  We can relate to his struggles to grow up because we have all had to do so ourselves. 

This sympathy for Philip is what makes this book timeless.  Philip’s experiences easily translate to the twenty-first century because they are decidedly human experiences – questioning faith, experiencing love, struggling to make ends meet.  Because of this, the book is equally frustrating and beautiful because honestly, who wants to relive their painful youth?  And yet, Maugham tells the experience of growing up so well that the reader is forced to relive their youth through Philip’s experiences.

Because of the pain and angst Philip experiences throughout the book, it is not comfortable reading at times and therefore may not be for everyone.  I know others who read this with me who expressed a desire to take Philip by the shoulders and shake some sense into him.  I definitely shared those sentiments at time, and yet, the lack of sense is what made the book so enjoyable.  Watching him grow and become a man is painful and frustrating, but so is actually doing it.  As a reader of this book, remembering this fact is key to sympathizing with Philip and enjoying the book itself.

I would recommend this book to anyone who loves classics or character-driven books.  Maugham makes the reader think, which is never a bad thing in my opinion.  Like most classics, it is not an easy read but worth the struggle. 

If you have read Of Human Bondage, I would love to know what you thought.  Do you agree with my assessment or disagree?  What were your impressions?

Image: Signature Block

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