Short Story Reads: Salvatore by Somerset Maugham

One of the reasons Somerset Maugham was never considered among the greatest novel writers of his lifetime, much to his disappointment, was his dry, satirical approach to novel writing. Maugham was a keen observer of life but with a distant, aloof, often blunted involvement.

The Novels
Though a very successful writer of his times, Maugham’s novels like Of Human Bondage, The Moon and Sixpence and Cakes and Ale are not considered among the greatest novels of any time today. His novels seldom make the top 100 list of books ever written.

Often, Maugham with his steely, unblinking eye has given us lengthy descriptions of a time and era gone by. These prose sections are not as engaging to read now.

At the time of writing, I have been rereading Cakes and Ale. The descriptive passages now seem dated, though, in parts, the well-sketched characters and story still hold my attention.

The Master 
In contrast, fifty years after his death, Somerset Maugham’s reputation as a short story writer remains untarnished. In this writing medium, Maugham finds unparalleled touch, telling all kinds of tales with a fluidity and verve that his novels momentarily radiate. Fortunately, the writer himself compiled The Complete Short Stories in four volumes, arranging them according to the local setting of the stories.

Salvatore by Somerset Maugham 
My faith as a reader was reaffirmed recently in Salvatore, a short story that only Maugham could pull off with such finesse, heart, and flair.

I wonder if I can do it. 

Maugham begins the story with that enigmatic first sentence and goes on tell us the story of Salvatore, first as a carefree boy of 15 effortlessly swimming in the sea.

Salvatore lives on an island around present Malaysia with his fisherman father and two younger brothers. Time flies and soon Salvatore falls for a beautiful girl on the island. The couple is engaged but the boy has to leave the island for the first time in his life to serve the mandatory military service term.

It is hard for Salvatore to bear this separation. Even as he is sent to Venice, Bari, and China, he writes long, ill-spelled letters to his love.

After falling severally ill with rheumatism, Salvatore is declared unfit for further service, much to his relief and happiness. He can now go home. Little does he know that tragedy, hardship, and heartbreak await him.

Among the briefest, most moving and beautiful stories ever written by Maugham, Salvatore is a short story masterpiece from start to finish.

What did the writer imply with that enigmatic first line?

Read Salvatore by Somerset Maugham at this link to unveil the secret. 

(Article by Snehith Kumbla)   

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