The Skeptical Romancer
W. Somerset Maugham and Pico Iyer (editor)
Everyman’s Library (Random House), Nov 2009, $24.00
W. Somerset Maugham is renowned for his highly regarded novels like of Human Bondage. However, less known is that the late author was a world traveler who wrote articles and letters about the locations he saw as a boy in Spain, a spy in Russia, traveling in Asia during the Great Depression and much more including the United States. Although a few of these short observations are known by readers especially those from The Land of the Blessed Virgin released in 1905 (included as a section As A Very Young Traveler) most probably are not remembered. The other chapters are Sketches of China (from On a Chinese Screen, 1922), Across Southeast Asia (from The Gentleman in the Parlour, 1930) and A Life in Retrospect (from The Partial View, 1954). With over sixty entries and a chronology of the author’s life matched up again major world events, fans of Mr. Maugham or those who appreciate a different type of travelogue that looks at the human condition will want to read this fine collection. Fans will understand better the underlying motives to the late writer’s masterpiece plays and novels as he matured from that boy in Spain to an adult horrified with what man can do to man yet somehow remained optimistic even into his sixties and beyond when the obituary column was constantly loaded with his peer group.