The Narrow Corner, viii

Out of nowhere, Maugham turns in the best writing so far in The Narrow Corner. It’s out of nowhere because it all starts with Dr. Saunders reading his book, getting ready to have his evening pipe. He muses about his nineteen year-old servant, Ah Kay, who still doesn’t get any lines. There’s a very Maugham moment when Saunders hopes his servant has affection for him. Then it’s time to smoke and it turns out Dr. Saunders is about to get high on opium. In moderation, of course. Ah Kay prepares and serves the pipes, makes Saunders some tea, smokes a cigarette, plays some music, then gets high himself once Saunders is all set. The opium puts Ah Kay to sleep, but Saunders sits around and muses about the human condition—“the riddle of existence.” Because high on opium, Saunders’s soul is able to “look down upon his flesh with the affectionate tolerance with which you might regard a friend who bored you but whose love was grateful to you.” Is The Narrow Corner going to be some kind of advertisement for opium smoking? There’s a lot of that “you” language, especially when Maugham writes Saunders’s thoughts about Ah Kay’s music. Until now, I’ve found The Narrow Corner diverting, amusing, engaging, but there’s a chance it could be something better.

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