Sunday, August 5, 2007

Of Human Bondage

I have two idiosyncrasies which I appreciate (alright, this is quite moronic, but hey, this is my Blog and I can say it anyhow :) - I love to keep my books after reading them and then I love re-reading them again and again. My personal library span over three houses and I do need to catalogue them - as it is, I cannot remember what are the books which I currently have and where. Anyway...

Today, I completed one of my favourite book: W Somerset Maugham's "Of Human Bondage." Of Human Bondage is a big book in every sense of the word: it is hefty at 776 pages long, at 258 773 words (according to Amazon, its in the top of the class for verbosity), there are hundreds of characters: and many of the lesser characters are equally memorable, and the settings are equally diffused: London, the English countryside, Heidelberg, Paris, a Channel fishing village.

The characters in the book are real and they display emotions and feelings everyone can identify with. The power of the novel becomes apparent when you read it: you choke up every once in a while, you smile for hours after you have finished reading certain passages, and you comprehend your own self, your woes and possibilities, better through perspectives that the book provides.

Maugham finds himself a fan in George Orwell (1984, The Animal Farm) who described him as "the modern writer who has influenced me the most" whilst Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Hundred Years of Solitude) said "he is one of my favourite authors."

Of Human Bondage traces the life of Philip Carey from childhood to a grown man. It is sparingly, but exquisitely written. Wholly unsentimental, yet bursting with depth of feelings. Born with a club-foot and orphaned from an early age, Carey is physically set apart from his fellows. Rather than seeking to make himself included, he deals with the cruelty and thoughtlessness of others by emotionally setting himself apart, thus fuelling his own sense of 'difference'. With the exuberance of youth, in the pursuit of his own difference and yearning for passion and inspiration, he abandons his studies to travel, first to Heidelberg, and then to Paris, where he nurses ambitions of being a great artist.

Maugham beautifully captures the idealism of youth which slowly gets eroded as the protagonist comes to recognise his own mediocrity and lack of importance in the world. It is also a powerful study of a character brought up in the shadow of religion and who comes to understand himself, and others, only at the expense of his faith.

Maugham's greatest achievement in this book is the character of Carey himself: complex, insecure, self-protective and arrogant, he is outwardly not the most sympathetic of people, and is most definitely not a hero. Yet his internal life is so richly drawn, so deftly developed, that one cannot help but care deeply for him. Through happiness, tragedy and suffering, he comes to realise that he is like all other men and yet resolutely himself, which is what makes him different from others. And so, at the heart of this book lies the eternal riddle of existence, captured in passages which literally took my breath away.

Although this book has no pretty characters which would have attracted many of us in the first instance, it is truly a book of epic proportion full of passion, love, loss, hopes realised and hopes dashed, a book about the strength of the human spirit and how even when those around you drain all the goodness from you, you can still return love. I look forward to my 8th reading of the book, in due time :)

4 comments:

saedah said...

Salam Hoopoe.....

I am hyped by The Willow Tree. Watch. Must watch. Its about the darkness in light and the LIGHT in darkness. Its about the ugliness in beauty and the BEAUTY in ugliness.

esprit said...

wow... how big are the 3 houses? what happen to the books later?
how u pick ur books i wonder?
n how u find time to read over n over? =)

Mufei said...

Salaam Ustaz,

That is indeed impressive all the books you have currently on your shelves! Including your knowledge gained from all kinds of sources, you must be a living book yourself! ;-)

Have you tried "My Name is Salma" of Fadia Faqir yet? As it says on the cover, it is a novel of forbidden love, violated honour and exile for a Muslim woman. That kinda puts my currently limited knowledge of Islam already into different perspectives...

Are you also very ecclectic in your book reading, just like your musical aspirations? ;-)

Cheers,
Mufei

TheHoopoe said...

Ah ... I tend not to favour categories/compartmentalisation. I just read what I like :)