Liza of Lambeth is the first novel published by W. Somerset Maugham, in 1897. I've been a big fan of Maugham's work ever since I read Of Human Bondage as a freshman in college, so I thought Liza would be a good choice for my Classic Novella selection for the Back to the Classics Challenge. (It also counts towards the Reading England Challenge).
This is the story of Liza Kemp, a young woman of about eighteen or twenty who lives in Vere Street in Lambeth, a neighborhood of London. Liza is pretty and spirited, and she doesn't seem very satisfied with her life. She lives with her widowed mother, who seems to do nothing but drink and complain about her rheumatism, and her boyfriend Tom bores her. At the beginning of the story, it's a beautiful day in August, and the neighbors are hanging around outside when an organ player wanders down the street. Spontaneous dancing breaks out as Liza is walking home in a new dress, and she joins in. The sight of Liza dancing in that new dress catches the eye of a new neighbor, Jim Blakeston, who changes Liza's life forever. He's married, with a houseful of children, and he's old enough to be her father. But Jim is so different than her boyfriend, Liza starts a relationship with him that sends her on a downward spiral.
It's quite short, only 137 pages, and one could easily read it in a day or possibly even a single sitting, but I had to put it down a few times because I did find the story quite depressing. It's quite obvious to the reader that this isn't going to end well, and it doesn't. Maugham was working as a doctor in working-class London at the time he wrote the book, and it struck me that he must have seen many girls like Liza.
It was a little difficult to read because all the characters speak in a dialect which I can only assume was Cockney. (Please feel free to correct me in the comments I'm incorrect.) Though the story is well written, and the characters are well developed, I can't say I really recommend it because I found it so sad. I did appreciate it as fan of Maugham, but I can't say I'd ever want to read it again. I've read The Painted Veil and Up at the Villa several times but Liza of Lambeth won't be on my list of favorites.
I agree that this one isn't my favorite. It felt a bit underdeveloped for Maugham.ReplyDelete
It was okay for a first novel. I really want to reread Cakes and Ale and The Moon and Sixpence -- I know I read them years ago but I don't remember a thing about them. I still have his entire short story collection as well.ReplyDelete
I bought ten WSM novels a while ago, as they were on offer, and have read The Painted Veil and Up At The Villa. I liked both a lot, but they haven't made me DESPERATE to read more. Are there others you'd particularly recommend?ReplyDelete
Of Human Bondage is just brilliant. It's pretty long, almost 700 pages, but so worth it. I've read most of his other books but it's been awhile, I need to reread them.Delete
I have read Of Human Bondage and The Razor’s Edge, but I am with Simon above. While I enjoyed both books, neither has really spurred me on to read more by Maugham.ReplyDelete
It is hard to read about a character who the reader knows is going down the wrong path, who goes left when they clearly should have gone right. Have you read House of Mirth? I felt that way about Lily.
House of Mirth is one of my all-time favorite books -- Lily is so tragic, but I thought it was brilliant. I love most anything by Wharton, but her books rarely end well.Delete
I've absolutely loved some of Maugham's books, but others just underwhelmed me. I've read A Christmas Holiday and Theater, but didn't really feel strongly about either.