The Narrow Corner, ii

Maugham opens the novel proper quite active—“Dr. Saunders yawned.” Then he gets into some character information, but he waits a bit to reveal setting. The Malay Archipelago. Otherwise, it’d just be something exotic. And Maugham’s careful how he brings in the cultural references—there’s a bunch of backstory on Saunders (presumably British expat) in China and Maugham waits to get in the details. He goes big, then small, then big again. It’s also kind of cool because I know how bird’s-nest soup and shark fins are served thanks to “Iron Chef.” There’s another couple pages to this section, setting up what Saunders is doing in the Archipelago from China. There’s also a very long sentence. “But when they had anything the matter with their eyes they put their disapproval in their pockets and came down for treatment to the shabby little Chinese house over the river where Dr. Saunders dwelt happily amid the stenches of a native city.” Forty-three words. It’s Maugham setting the prose’s tone. It’s overly vivid too—“dwelt happily” versus “stenches.” The Narrow Corner seems to be a showy Maugham.

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