Somerset Maugham’s “Cakes and Ale”

I really enjoyed The Moon and Sixpence, Somerset Maugham’s novel based on the life of Gauguin. I wish I could say the same about Cakes and Ale, which I read on this hot and muggy day.

A short novel, it tells the story of an English author, whose fame may be greater than his talent, and who dies at age 86. He has been married twice, first to a former bar-maid (who is unfaithful to him with virtually everyone she meets, and who finally runs off to America with her old hometown beau), and then to his former nurse (who wants to protect his reputation post-death). But he is hardly a character in the book at all. It is a first person book, written by a younger author, who knew the older man thirty years earlier when he was married to his first wife (and was in fact a lover of that first wife) and who met her again on a trip to New York, when she was a 70 year old widow. But you don’t learn that much about the narrator either.

Some critics say that the first wife is the central character of the book, but I actually could not discern much about her, outside of her activities.

All in all, the book did not speak to me at all. I thought the prose someone dry, the characters not very interesting, and the plot not there at all.

I believe that my view is a minority view among the few who bother to read the book today.


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