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Of Human Bondage - W.Somerset Maugham.

His short stories are some of the best I've ever read, but for some reason I've always struggled with his novels. This is his longest one, over 700 pages long, and his "classic", published just before the 1WW and a sort of roman-a-clef. I remember when I was twenty something I tried it twice and couldn't finish it. Now I've absolutely loved it. It's a bit overwritten at the start, but once the story starts to flow it grows on you and only gets better and better. It's about everything really, a larger than life book in a philosophical sense, but also very detailed and domestic in the descriptions, from when Philip, the main character, is left an orphan in the care of his vicar uncle, to his miserable school days, his travels around Europe, his failed attempt to become an artist in Paris, at the height of impressionism, full of pathetic Monets in the making, unable to cope with the idea that they are not geniuses and living literally hand to mouth, his return to London, where he tries to become a doctor, and his following obsession with a waitress, the relentlessly obnoxious Mildred, one of the nastiest characters I've ever read, and which almost leads him to destitution and self-destruction (this part is very dark but wonderful, and predates the sordid glamour of the great "bedsitter" London novels of Patrick Hamilton and Norman Collins, Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sun and London Belongs To Me, with their lonely haunted characters, addictions and smoke filled dingy Soho nightclubs ) and his final personal redemption by the most unexpected and ordinary means, marriage, instead of travelling to the exotic Middle East of his imagination. In the end is about fate dictating life over personal choices.The club foot of Philip, which haunts him and for which he's mocked for through his life, I am sure is a metaphore for the author being gay. At some point he even has a surgery, but it cannot be "fixed".
 
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