I read this great Guardian blog post with glee. Thus, it yet again proves I'm ahead of fashions and trends—huzzah! This great English writer, William Somerset Maugham is, apparently, due to become trendy again, thanks largely to the film adaptation of his novel, The Painted Veil.
I read a great deal of Somerset Maugham a couple of years back. I found that, far from being dated, a lot of his themes are intensely timeless, and highly relevant. His prose is of that elegance and clarity that is too rare a beast. A superstar in his day, but largely forgotten now (actually, I find that hard to believe when you see a shelf of his books in Waterstone's), he was one of those utterly English writers. In his time, he wasn't held in the top class of writers who were doing the whole Modernist thing (Joyce etc.), but now his importance is much clearer.
If you fancy a bit of the genre, his novel The Magician, based on occult-party-dude Aleister Crowley, clearly touches some very Gothic and speculative tones. And, Somerset Maugham was the grandfather of the spy novel, with Ashenden a direct influence on Ian Fleming's Bond. A gentlemanly, aloof spy: sound familiar? This guy was well ahead of his time.
You could do a lot worse than investigate this fine writer. His books are an education on the art of story. He wrote a stack of plays, too, if you're that way inclined. If you're looking for that lean prose in the shape of Graham Greene, but perhaps with a tad more of that Old English grammar school, here's something to explore.
— Mark N
Posted by Mark Newton at 5/09/2007