Photo: Philip Friedman/Studio D
Of Human Bondage
W. Somerset Maugham, who was voraciously read during much of the 20th century, is a masterful storyteller, and Of Human Bondage
(Signet Classics) is his magnum opus. Equal parts coming-of-age tale and tortured love story, the 1915 novel, set mainly in London and Paris at the end of the 19th century, follows orphan Philip Carey from his childhood in the home of a stern uncle, through his lonely years at boarding school, and into his early adulthood, when he lights out in search of fulfillment. At the cracked heart of the story is Philip's destructive affair with London waitress Mildred (immortalized by Bette Davis in a 1934 film adaptation). In artfully crafted prose that rings achingly true, Maugham explores the dark side of desire: "Love was like a parasite in his heart, nourishing a hateful existence on his life's blood." At the same time, he holds out hope for redemption through self-knowledge and maturity. The world of the novel is so finely wrought and the characters so real, you'll grip this book (or e-reader) with anxiety for Philip, and root for him until the bitter end.
— Pamela Newton