The Explorer, by William Somerset Maugham

explorerLucy Allerton alone knows that her father’s ridiculousness is leading her family to lose everything they own. Her mother died when she was fifteen, and there is only Lucy, her father, and her younger brother George left to the Allertons. When Mr. Allerton is convicted of fraud and imprisoned, all honor left to their family name is lost. In desperation, Lucy refuses a proposal from her lover, Alec, and asks him instead to take her brother back to Africa on his next mission. Alec is an acclaimed explorer trying to end the slave trade and claim land for the British Empire. The hope is that George can overcome the bad nature that may have been passed down from his father and regain honor for their family.

First off, I must say that I absolutely love William Somerset Maugham. He’s one of my very favorite authors. He is the reason I began reading again after almost a decade thinking there was nothing out there that I liked. I read Mrs. Craddock the first week of 2001, and I was hooked. I’ve now read almost 15 of his novels and have only really disliked one (The Magician). The Explorer is his ninth published novel according to the bibliography on Wikipedia. It is one of his romances rather than one of his tragedies.

I can see why this was not Maugham’s most popular work and why it is more difficult to come by these days. The man wrote tons of books and this is definitely not on the list of ones most often looked at. The first 50 or so pages alternate between normal Maugham prose and very, very dry telling-not-showing backstory. Both the section about the history of the Allertons and the section about all the amazing stuff Alec did in Africa prior to the beginning of the book are long, long, long, and boring. I skimmed a lot of it. But I didn’t give up. No. I trust Maugham wholeheartedly. I knew, eventually, he would get past the dry parts and dive into the characters and their turmoils. Once it did, the book flew along and I couldn’t put it down, just like I’ve experienced in the past with Maugham.

The book was anything but typical for him, though. It almost felt as if he was experimenting with different forms of writing. One character, Dick Lomas, felt so much like Lord Henry from The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde that I couldn’t help laughing at the similarity. Then, Mr. Lomas and an American woman named Julia Crowley are like a combination of the “comic relief” and “perfect couple” characters that are always in Jane Austen romances. Much of the romance seemed to be modeled off of Austen’s tension build-up techniques, actually. So reading The Explorer was like reading a combination of authors. A very strange experience, and again, definitely not the best Maugham I’ve ever read. That didn’t prevent me from loving it, though! It actually made Maugham so much more endearing to me. He was still learning as he wrote this, and that makes me smile.

I would only recommend this book to people who are already fans of Maugham’s works. As a first try, this is not a good book. If it had been the first book I read, I would have given up by page 50 and written Maugham off as dry and boring. He is anything but dry and boring. In fact, because he used straightforward prose and very simple plot devices and language, he was looked down upon as a pop-writer in his day. His books are usually very easy to read, fast, and engaging. I wish everyone would read something by him. In particular, I recommend Mrs. Craddock, The Painted Veil, Theatre, or The Razor’s Edge. Many people consider Of Human Bondage his best work and it IS good, but it’s also longer and more meandering than his others and some people find it very tedious. It doesn’t read quite like many of Maugham’s works. I really liked it, but I think I liked it more having read others first.

About Amanda

Agender empty-nester filling my time with cats, books, fitness, and photography. She/they.
This entry was posted in 2010, Adult, Prose and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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