From an orphan with a clubfoot, Philip Carey grows into an impressionable young man with a voracious appetite for adventure and knowledge. Then he falls obsessively in love, embarking on a disastrous relationship that will change his life forever.
I got as far as page 394, so I really did try. But I kept wanting to give Philip a shake, tell him to "get over it" and get on with his life already. Mildred was a perfect pill, and I was quite annoyed with how she abused his faith and love. The other characters were, for the most part, either one-dimensional, or unlikeable.
I know I'll most likely get slammed for daring to say this, but I just didn't like this book, and I was not the only one. It was just too depressing and full of despair. Avoid this unless you like a hard slog through the muck of sadness.
The novel is Dickens like in its deaths and depressive environs. The plight of a Paris classmate is the most poingnent of the various sub-plots. Phillip Carey is truly a Dickens like hero who chases forbidden love. The reader agonizes as Phillip is abused over and over again by Mildred. Of Human Bondage is worth the 800 pages.
The one piece of the puzzle that never quite fit in is Mildred, the rather disgusting object of Phillip's obsession. At first, I kind of liked her for her cheekiness. As Phillip's passion for her grew, however, so did my distaste for her -- I found myself muttering warnings to Phillip under my breath each time he extended himself to her. Mildred is a unique character, however, simply because she's revolting; I didn't expect her to become so prominent in Phillip's life, because I always anticipated he'd be attracted to someone kind and lovely (like a Thomas Hardy female character). She is just one of many interesting twists in this book.
I also really enjoyed the "motherly" theme of the book. Phillip's journey through life begins without a mother, he inherits an inadequate aunt as a mother-figure, he encounters a passionless mother in Mildred, finds admirable and pitiable motherly qualities in Mrs. Athelny, and ends up with a woman who is always described as "maternal." I found it interesting to follow that thread throughout the book.
I was surprised by the ending because it didn't really seem to fit in with the rest of Phillip's life. However, upon re-reading the section of Phillip's "epiphany" about life, it all seems to work out correctly.
Before reading this book it may be helpful to read a brief bio of Maugham so it's easier to see the parallels and the symbolism that he employs throughout the work which bridge the gaps between the fiction and the reality.
The most interesting and emotionally difficult portions of the book to read are those when Philip is experiencing pain and grief through his relationship with Mildred. The account of this relationship is by far the most powerful writing in the book because it is the most raw and honest. It is not hard to imagine the author, and or yourself, in a similar situation feeling the exact pain and anger that his fictitious character tries to weave his way through.
Maugham is certainly not the best writer I have ever read. His prose is straight forward and not to dynamic but what he lacks in showmanship he more than makes up for in this ability to observe the range of human emotions that all people feel at some point in their life. The themes of lose and hardship are plentiful through this book, and many people get hung up them, but I think that the true point is Maugham's desire to show that it all comes out in the wash. That humans are resilient animals and the pain of yesterday is forgotten with the joy of today.
This is no doubt a classic piece of literature that deserves not only reading but study.