Somerset and All the Maughams - Robin Maugham Several many years ago a friend said that I reminded him of Larry, the hero of Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge. Obviously, I then had to read this novel to find out whether I had been slanderously insulted or handsomely praised. My friend's innocent comment set off the spark that grew into my love of all things "Maugham." From The Razor's Edge I moved on to Of Human Bondage, read over a 36-hour train ride from LA to Seattle, and from there into Maugham's other novels and short stories. Not only did I closely identify with many of the author's characters (my friend was not far off in his assessment) but I identified and sympathized with the author himself. (On the top 10 list of "Things to Do If I Had a Time Machine" would be to arrange a lunch at Maugham's home, Villa Mauresque, and get him to sign one of his books.)

I picked up this particular book while getting a crick in my neck looking over titles at a used-book sale; for 50 cents, it was an unbeatable bargain.

The author, Robin Maugham, is Somerset Maugham's nephew, and the book is a rambling chronicle of his efforts to trace the Maugham family. It makes for an interesting read as we learn about the obscure and humble origins of the clan (and "clan" it is; Robin M. finds cousins and branches all over the world) and some of its more colorful members like Theophilus Maugham (aka Thomas Reid), who served as a seaman during the Napoleonic Wars.

It's also a fairly benign look at the Maughams until we reach the last two chapters where Robin talks about his father and "Willie" (as he always referred to his uncle). Neither man was particularly easy to get along with. Robin's father, Frederic Maugham, could have been a poster boy for the Victorian gentleman - suppressed and suppressing, narrow minded, a tad bigoted and nearly absent as a father in Robin's life. It's clear he wasn't a bad person but he wasn't a good father. William Maugham had his own demons to contend with: Parents dead at an early age, he spent a miserable childhood with his uncle, the vicar of Whitstable; homosexual in an age when it was a crime to be such; and burdened with low self-esteem and a constant need to justify himself to those he considered his betters (the upper crust of English society). In his later years, Willie's veneer of worldly cynicism tended to overwhelm that current of Romantic humanism that made him capable of writing such works as Liza of Lambeth, his first novel and a moving portrait of the poor that shocked strait-laced Victorian sensibilities, The Razor's Edge, Of Human Bondage or Cakes and Ale.

I can only recommend this to a small readership: Those who like genealogy and/or those who are interested in W. Somerset Maugham but if you do suffer from one or both of those maladies, I think you'll enjoy this work.