Book Review – Liza of Lambeth by W. Somerset Maugham

Liza is a chirpy young woman growing up in London. She has a suitor of her own age called Tom, but she doesn’t love him. She looks after her mother, who suffers from rheumatics, and when a new family moves in she finds herself strangely attracted to the head of the household, an older man called Jim.

Now, Maugham is my favourite writer so I’m already predisposed to like his work. This version I found on Kindle for 95p, and it’s a fairly short novel so you can breeze through it in around a couple of hours. It also comes with a nice preface from Maugham where he talks about his background and how he came to write this story. It doesn’t give much insight into the thought processes behind Liza of Lambeth, but it does give one a better sense of how Maugham saw himself as a writer.

One thing that always annoys me in books is when regional dialects and accents are presented in prose. Even though Maugham is my favourite writer, this still annoys me here. The books takes place in London so everyone has a cockney accent, and while Maugham does capture this it just makes the reader have to do more work to decipher some of the more oblique phrases. And when one does get used to the flow, it’s broken up by a passage of Maugham’s eloquent prose. At times this can be a jarring shift in tone.

As for the story, it’s an odd one. It delivers a slice of cockney life and there’s a bit of romantic angst thrown in for good measure. There are also glimpses of some other human sufferings given from the supporting characters. Liza is a bright woman with a friendly demeanour, and she makes for a good protagonist, although we’re not given an explanation into why she makes some of the decisions she ends up making. This can lead us to feel a bit distant from her. I suppose it’s a novel where the goal isn’t to get us to sympathise with characters, rather it’s showing us how some people live and in that it does succeed.

Despite its shortcomings I still enjoyed it and although it’s not as good as some of his other books it’s still a good read, and is a bargain at the moment on Kindle so snap it up.

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