The Narrow Corner, xi

Most of this chapter—I still haven’t decided, as the novel’s i is a single line, if these should be called chapters or sections—but most of this chapter is dialogue. The captain is recounting his tale to Dr. Saunders in a lively fashion. There’s a little autobiography summary, then a complete retelling how how Captain Nichols ended up on the ship with Fred Blake. If it weren’t for the accented dialogue, it’d be near perfect because it flows and Maugham enjoys writing the captain’s dialogue. Even more so, in this chapter, than he enjoys writing the doctor’s observations. There’s a nice part where the doctor is remembering Piccadilly Circus and how theaters “disgorged” their audiences. I’m a fan of making the inanimate objects or places the actors in a sentence so it stands out. Unfortunately, so does the opening line of the chapter about how it’s between one and two in the morning. If the doctor had a timepiece, he’d know. Or he wouldn’t. There’s some interesting stuff with the doctor reflecting on mortality and religion but then the captain shows up and takes over with his story. Most of the recollection goes uninterrupted, with the doctor making only occasional observations. Maugham relies on the reader to pay attention to quotation marks to discern the narrative layer; he trusts his reader, it’s just too bad he took until chapter eight or nine to find the story he wants to tell. Turns out Fred Blake’s probably some kind of fugitive. My favorite Maugham line has to be, “If [the doctor] was somewhat lacking sympathy, he made up for it by being uncommonly tolerant. He thought it no business of his to praise or condemn.” Even when Maugham doesn’t star in his novel, he sort of stars in the novel. He just gets to get high on opium every night.

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