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Book Review: "Liza of Lambeth" by W. Somerset Maugham

by Annie Kapur 10 months ago in review

4/5 - His first ever published novel...

W. Somerset Maugham has written some great books including: "Of Human Bondage", "The Magician", "Then and Now" and even "The Razor's Edge". But I have to say that I had never encountered the novella "Liza of Lambeth" before now. I did not even know it existed. Written when W. Somerset Maugham was only seventeen years' old, this novel explores the identity of a woman by those who look upon her as beautiful. Between this, we have affairs, we have this rugged scenery and we have a community that almost looks unrealistically folklorish. The language has an essence of place and many of the characters speak in the dialect of where they come from. In the middle of the plot is the beautiful, eccentric, overbearing and extroverted Liza of Lambeth - the eponymous protagonist. From the very start of the book, we are shaken by her presence, her dress sense and her ability to turn every head going. By the middle of the book though, we come more into her character and reasoning behind why she behaves the way she does. She is a bright and vibrant character with a lot of personality and this read, though not Maugham's best, has been very interesting in the study of characters to come in his later, more famous novels.

There are quotations from this novel that I have just adored so much that I have gone back and read them again and again:

"The following day was Sunday. Liza when she was dressing herself in the morning, felt the hardness of fate in the impossibility of eating one's cake and having it; she wished she had reserved her new dress, and had still before her the sensation of a first appearance in it. With a sigh, she put on her ordinary everyday working dress and proceeded to get the breakfast ready, for her mother had been out late the previous night, celebrating the new arrivals in the street and had the 'rheumatics' this morning."

This really gives contrast to her character that, at the very beginning of the novel, seems incredibly outgoing, extroverted and in all aspects - happy and fulfilled. This paragraph makes the reader wonder about the truth behind Liza and begins to lead us into the problem of the narrative to come. Since the novel is so short, this happens fairly quickly in the narrative. Yet, the book itself never goes wrong with showing us all the sides to her complex character.

"...the gathering broke up, and the good folk paired themselves and separated. Harry and his lady strolled off to secluded byways in the forest, so that they might discourse of their loves and digest their dinner. Tom had all the morning been waiting for this happy moment; he had counted on the expensive effect of a full stomach to thaw his Liza's coldness, and he had pictures himself sitting on the grass with his back against the trunk of a spreading chestnut tree, with his arm round his Liza's waist and her head resting affectionately on his manly bosom. Liza too, had foreseen the separation into couples after dinner, and had been racking her brains to find a means of getting out of it."

Liza's character is becoming more and more anxious as her mind draws itself towards the symbolism and meaning in certain events connecting together and what that will mean for her. Throughout the later parts of the novel, Liza seems an entirely different character than before, but deep down inside nobody can kill her spirit.

In conclusion, though this is not a perfect book, for something like this to be written by a seventeen-year-old is quite remarkable. I enjoyed the character of Liza a lot and found that the plot circulated on her personality and expectations rather than one thing after another. This slowed down the feeling of the book though it was short and I wholeheartedly respect the control that went into the narrative style.

review

Annie Kapur

Film and Writing (M.A)

125K+ Reads on Vocal

IG: @AnnieApproximately

Pronouns: (she/her/hers)

Read next: Forrest Gump - A Movie Review

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