The Narrow Corner, xxvi

Tragedy has struck. Things are revealed. Only Maugham doesn’t really care too much. He has to find a fun way to deal with the events recounted in the chapter and he does—the doctor is high on six pipes of opium and he’s hearing confession. It’s kind of awesome, but also a little too long-winded. The Narrow Corner’s biggest problem—besides those slips into second person, which Maugham does again here with none of the success he had in the previous chapter while humanizing Erik the Dane—is the intentional lack of sympathy for the characters. It’s a cynical novel, though a fast moving one. There’s some nice dialogue from the doctor here (because he’s high and he’s even less inhibited with observations than usual). I once heard a writer say all novels end badly. I disagreed with him silently—we were sitting around after a writing conference drinking expensive vodka; he’s an accomplished author and writing professor, I was at that point an unpublished MFA student—but it’s hard to figure what Maugham thought he was going to do with this storyline. A couple hundred pages of solid setup and nowhere to go. Why not be high on opium for it, as the good doctor’s the stand-in for the reader anyway?

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