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Book Review: The Moon and Sixpence by W. Somerset Maugham

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The Moon and Sixpence by William Somerset Maugham is a novel loosely based on the life of painter, Paul Gauguin. This is one of the most interesting books I have ever read because of the eccentric set of people the story revolves around. Maugham’s analysis of his characters makes them come to life, and they were so vivid I was not able to put the book down.

Maugham was an English playwright and author, his works include: The Razor’s Edge, Of Human Bondage, The Painted Vail, Cakes and Ale, and many more. The Moon and Sixpence came to Maugham when he traveled to Tahiti to study the French artist Paul Gauguin, and imagined the story of the painter’s life from a different perspective.

The leading character, Charles Strickland, abandons his job as a stockbroker, his family of four, and his entire life in England unannounced to pursue painting in France. In this transitional move to France he becomes indifferent to people and their emotions. Some could consider him cruel, while others find his honesty refreshing, but, either way, he shows no affection to those who enter his life or those who leave it. The book follows Strickland and his work from France to Tahiti, where the story ends. Strickland’s unwillingness to compromise for his pursuit of art is unbelievable.

The character descriptions were the best part of the book for me. Maugham did a wonderful job making his characters come to life and play with the reader’s emotions. Strickland could easily be viewed as the villain in this novel because of his attitude, but is to be respected for his ingenuity. In some aspects his persistence for truth and independence could be seen as heroism and genius. Maugham challenges audiences to decide for themselves what they believe is “right” or “correct” in the story, and, because of this, readers must take an active role in the book.

Although I enjoyed this book, it isn’t an easy read. Because the reader must constantly analyze the story, the book can be a chore, and there is no moment of relaxation. Also, the plot is interesting but moves slowly. The book is largely dependent on the description of the characters, as opposed to the story line. If you are looking for an action-packed book, this may not be the one for you. Maugham could have spent a little more time illustrating the chain of events; the book could read a little easier.

The Moon in Sixpence, overall, was well worth the read. It leaves the reader with questions of what is morality and has the capability to change one’s perspective completely. I would suggest it to anyone who is an art lover, as you will see many relations and references to the art world and Gauguin’s life. I would also suggest this book to F. Scott Fitzgerald fans, because the styles and focus of Fitzgerald novels are very similar to that of Maugham.

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