Book Review – The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham by Selina Hastings

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The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham goes into detail about a man who was once the world’s most celebrated writer. Giving insight to his novels, short stories, and plays as well as his complicated personal life and time spent working as a British spy, this biography is a comprehensive one.

As many of you longtime readers will know, W. Somerset Maugham is my favourite writer. I was actually going to buy this book at the start of the year from a seller on Amazon but then it turned out that they were actually out of stock. Then a few weeks ago I saw it in my local library and my joy knew no bounds. But did it live up to my expectations?

Most definitely.

The book itself is over 700 pages, but about 200 pages of these are given to notes etc, so the actual interesting part occurs over 540 pages. Hastings has a lot of research and she manages to create a compelling overview of Maugham’s life. It retains an impassive tone, although clearly she has great respect and admiration for the man, but she does not shy away from showing his flaws. The book is frank about his personal life, and she gives a good description of the people in his life. I also enjoyed her summations of is work. There are too many biographies I’ve read where the author goes into far too much detail about the works, but here they’re woven seamlessly into Maugham’s life.

For me, as a fan of Maugham, it is an amazing book. There’s so much information here that it deserves its title as the definitive biography of Maugham, and I found myself absorbed. As I only discovered Maugham a few years ago I think it’s a crime that he’s not mentioned in the same breath as writers like Dickens, Kipling, Hemingway, Fitzgerald etc.  But aside from the writing his life was filled with personal tragedy and anguish, and this book provides an accomplished look at how his professional and personal lives intertwined. It pretty much goes without saying that I loved it, and I do think you should have at least a passing interest in Maugham before you read it, but if you do then you’ll be in for a treat.

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