The Summing Up is a combination memoir and writer’s manual, similar to On Writing by Stephen King. Maugham wrote it in his mid-60s, fearing that he might be close to death and thus that he should complete this before he died. Ironically, he went on to live until he was 91, and published many books after The Summing Up.
When I first started the book, I was absolutely in love with it. Maugham thinks about writing much the way I do, so I was jotting down quotes several times a page until I finally gave that up, deleted the document I was working in, and just read. I loved hearing his perspectives on grammar and style, as well as his thoughts about religion and culture. He was far funnier than I expected him to be. I’ve been reading Maugham’s books for nearly a decade and have read at least 13 of them, so I’m quite familiar with his style and the way he thinks, but I didn’t know he had such a comic and self-deprecating streak. It was awesome!
Unfortunately, all the good stuff of this book happened in the first half. The second half was pedantic, repetitive, and not nearly as focused. I got bored very fast, which made me really sad. Maugham was no longer funny, and he talked a lot more about his life than about his writing (which is the part I was interested in). I’ve been saying since early this summer that I no longer enjoy memoirs, and apparently this pertains even to people I really love, like Maugham. Besides, much of what he said was just the factual rehash of his semi-autobiographical novel, Of Human Bondage, which I read and loved years ago. I didn’t need to read it again here.
This wasn’t Maugham’s best work, and really I’d only recommend it 1) for people who love Maugham and 2) for the first half of the book only. And honestly I can’t imagine anyone else that I know getting the itch to read this.