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[74] Up At The Villa – W. Somerset Maugham

upvilla.jpgMaugham packs so much suspense and psychological insight in this slim novel, which rivets attention from the first page to the last. Up at the Villa portrays a wealthy young Englishwoman who basked in a great Florentine villa, recuperating from her unhappy marriage, which abruptly ended upon the death of her husband. On the day her older, prosperous friend Edgar Swift, who was 25 years of her senior and has showed her kindness throughout the years, asks her to marry him, she decides to postpone her reply for a few days.

Mary Penton still feels misgiving about her husband because she is still in love with him. But she has also been given over to fits of repercussions and whimsy that now she not so much desires love as to marry for security. That she has been fed to the teeth with love has rendered her distrustful of the meaning of love; and whether or not she is in love with Edgar no longer matters. When driving into the hills above Florence alone one evening, she offers a ride to an Austrian refugee who has papers and whose fate has seemed so cruel that any words she might have to console him could only been futile. Little does she expect that his stranger misinterprets her act of kindness, one that is out of pity for him, and harbors more than a grateful passion. The chance encounter takes an unexpected but urgent turn and she is forced to seek advice and assistance from an unsavory man.

Up At The Villa is consistent with Maugham’s other novels in its carefully crafted suspense. The prose is sparse but elegant. Intriguing dialogues make up substantial framework of the novel–revealing more than just the plot and brimming with psychological details. Like The Painted Veil, Maugham demands readers to read between the lines in order to discern the mental and emotional state of the characters, for what is not said gives us as much information as what is being said. Ironically his omission not only leaves much room for imagination but also, with a touch of literary flair, renders the human nature so human with a baring nakedness.

As Mary Penton is forced to cope with the desire and yearnings, Maugham focuses on telling the story without lashing any judgment. He meditates on themes of temptation, the worth of love, the caprice of fate, the wounded vanity, the humiliation, and the kinky extreme of an act of kindness that goes woeful. Most of all, it portrays a component in human nature of which not everyone is capable: taking risks.

8 Responses

  1. I’m really glad you liked this, and I’m glad this is typical of his work as I thought it was wonderful. I loved his spare prose, but he still sort of surprised me in the end anyway!

  2. I really must read this and The Painted Veil. They both sound wonderful.

  3. It’s interesting how we have all read Maugham but the different works. I have yet to read these two but I remember reading Of Human Bondage in college.

  4. Yet another Maugham book I need to read!

  5. I’ve never tried Maugham (even though I have several of this books on my stacks). Will have to bump some of his stuff up.

  6. […] (a hidden jewel, so many twists, great writing), The Dante Club (academic mysterious thriller), Up At the Villa, and Gentlemen and Players and the current reading The Hummingbird’s […]

  7. well it’s a kind of nice book of literature to read. i think i’m going to use it as my final-degree test data. much of psychology aspects!!!

  8. Just came across this review today. The experience of reading Somerset Maugham differs from reader to reader, it’s really interesting seeing how you interpreted it, and picked up so many little bits that I missed!

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