The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Maugham handles language beautifully, telling the nice, compact story of a vacuous socialite who doesn't take life serious enough and finds herself in a very serious situation.
His economy of word fails his purpose only once, but it is an important failure and mars The Painted Veil in a way that diminishes it enough to keep it from attaining the echelon of "masterpiece" status. Our heroine Kitty's transformation (view spoiler)[her admission of her own worthlessness, willingness to admit it to an "enemy," and attempts to change (hide spoiler)] happens way too fast to be believable. Waugham painted himself into a corner by forcing nature (view spoiler)[Kitty's pregnancy (hide spoiler)] into the story. It made him speed up the timeline to get it all in under the gun.
Still, this is a well-told, highly enjoyable tale revolving around some good, bad and ambivalent people - most of which are all three of those at once - and as a water-tester for whether or not I wanted to throw myself into Maugham's much deeper work, Of Human Bondage, The Painted Veil was a success. A worthy good read indeed!