It’s like a meandering Great Gatsby, only Nick is further removed from the characters and the story, and Gatsy is a boring and unbelievable (and unbelievably boring) sociopath.
Maybe it’s my problem. I’m no art expert, so I certainly don’t know enough of Gaugin (on whom this little book is based) to appreciate the melodrama and descriptions of isolated Tahitian life. My knowledge of Gaugin doesn’t extend much past his Yellow Christ. I’ll be honest, I doubt I would have even known that those post-impressionist paintings of half-naked Polynesian (?) belonged to Gaugin, except that Somerset Maugham has now enlightened me.
And so I suppose that is one good thing that has come out of my laborious reading of the Moon and Sixpence: I have learned a bit more of art.
However, should you decide to delve into these tedious and uninteresting pages, be forewarned: Maugham seems to be interested only in examining the life of a poor starving artist, but from a very safe distance. Charles Strickland, who serves as Maugham’s Gaugin (though in this instance, British as opposed to French), is emotionally desolate, uninspiring, and spends the whole of his life repeatedly confirming that he does not care about his family, his friends, or his brief (and eventually suicidal) lover.
I do understand Maugham’s dilemma: delving into the psyche of a great and strange artist would have to be intimidating at the very least. But instead of trying to do so, he steps as far as back from Strickland/Gaugin as possible, through the narrator (whose name escapes me–he does nothing except communicate Maugham’s opinions on Gaugin and women), and the result is like peering through a foggy window at what might be a beautiful landscape, or a decrepit ghetto, but you’d never know the difference for the thick cloudy windows between you and the real world.
Maugham does have a way with words, I’ll give him that. But, perhaps, not so much of a way with plot, or structure, and so his piece serves more as a fictional, lifelong case study than an artsy novella.
Here’s a little sampling of the Moon and Sixpence:
“When a woman loves you she’s not satisfied until she possesses your soul. Because she’s weak, she has a rage for domination, and nothing less will satisfy her.”
“For men, as a rule, love is but an episode which takes place among the other affairs of the day, and the emphasis laid on it in novels gives it an importance which is untrue to life. There are few men to whom it is the most important thing in the world, and they are not the very interesting ones; even women, with whom the subject is of paramount interest, have a contempt for them.”
I’m not opposed to classics, and I would probably have enjoyed this one more if I had a better understanding of Paul Gaugin’s life and art beforehand, but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re a diehard Gaugin fan.