The book’s cover caught my eye. It was poignant, it was sweet, it was obviously set in the Far East. It was already very interesting. Turning the book over, I came to understand that “The Painted Veil” is a story set in the 1920s. It is about a young English couple — Walter, a bacteriologist, and Kitty, an upperclass woman who get married for the wrong reasons. Walter’s work brings them to Shanghai, where Kitty falls in love with someone else. Upon discovering her infidelity, Walter accepts a job in cholera-ridden Mei Tan Fu, a remote village in China, and takes his wife along. It is in this isolated part of the world that they learn to love and to forgive.
Without further thought, I bought the book. The story was so gripping, I couldn’t put it down. The characters were very well-developed and I grew attached to them with each turn of the page. Walter was as steady as Kitty was restless. She was as passionate as he was seemingly indifferent. Before you think it’s just another “opposites attract” concept, think again. The tensions were strong and still believable. Romance, frustration, expectations and hope mingle so unexpectedly in this engrossing read.
Interestingly, “The Painted Veil” was turned into a movie last year. It starred Edward Norton and Naomi Watts. A few days after I read the book, I popped in the DVD. While some movies do not do justice to the books they’re based on, the movie version of “The Painted Veil” was beautifully done. While some settings and storytelling styles were different, I believe it captured the essence of Maugham’s work. I just learned as well that in 1934, this was also adapted into a movie starring Greta Garbo.
“The Painted Veil” is haunting. While a love story, it is not only for romantics. It show us how hope comes in the most unusual forms and how love forgives in a haunting, passionate, and unexpected way. Its story and the emotions it triggered lingered long after I put the book down. It definitely has become one of my favorite books. I am glad that the book’s cover did catch my eye as I am finally introduced to W. Somerset Maugham’s work. I look forward to reading more of his novels.