I love Maugham and wanted to read his short stories as part of my short story project this year. I’ve since decided to give up the project and just finished reading the stories. There are quite a bit of them – 91 in all – and they come in a two-volume set that totals 1636 pages. The first volume, at 955 pages, are the first 30 of those stories, with an average page length of 32. It’s called East and West and primarily focuses on stories set in Asia. I got to travel all over the place, from Samoa to Brunei to Korea to Malaysia. The second volume is The World Over and takes the reader through South America, back to Asia, and then through Europe. It’s only 681 pages for 61 stories, averaging 11 pages each. Quite a difference between the two!
Interestingly, the two volumes are completely different in tone and quality as well. It’s almost as if The World Over contains the “b-side” stories. I adored East and West, savouring each story, but I skimmed and skipped most of the second volume. There were exceptions, of course, in both volumes. I hated the Ashenden spy stories in East and West, which were the only stories to take place in Europe instead of Asia, and I loved the Asian stories in The World Over. All the stories that took place in Asia just felt more real. Maugham seems to have really loved the people and culture there, despite being saddled with some traditional British colonialist ideas. I also think the stories set in Asia were better because they were generally much longer than the others. Maugham seems to write better when he has more room to develop his stories. The very short ones felt clipped and clichéd, moralistic and flat.
I’ve had this collection on my shelf for years and have been intimidated by its size. I’m glad I’ve now finally read Maugham’s stories, even if there were some I didn’t like.