An Unwritten Story By Somerset Maugham by Yuri Nagibin

An Unwritten Story By Somerset Maugham
An Unwritten Story By Somerset Maugham

Nagibin, Yuri. An Unwritten Story By Somerset Maugham. Moscow: Raduga Publishers, 1988.

This book had intrigued me for quite some time. Forgive my ignorance of Russian writers; my knowledge is confined to the classics. My favourite translator is Constance Garnett, so you can imagine.... I hesitated to buy it and finally I could borrow it from the library and took a look at what it was all about.

Un Unwritten Story By Somerset Maugham

I have to say that it is an irresistible title (though I may have appeared to contradict myself...)! I did spend some time trying to gather what this was all about, searching all over my materials. My hypothesis was that it was a novella written by Nagibin about what Maugham could have written.

Well, my conjuncture didn’t go far wrong. This is a collection of short stories originally written in Russian. One of the stories is called “An Unwritten Story By Somerset Maugham,” which gives the title of the collection. It is quite a clever marketing strategy; of course it depends on what your opinion of Maugham is....

To demystify the book, here is the content:
  • Author’s Foreword
  • Echo
  • We Shall Live
  • The Green Bird with the Bright Red Head
  • Wanted Urgently
  • Somewhere Near the Conservatoire
  • The Hushed Spring
  • The Outsider
  • The Beautiful Horse
  • Envoy from a Mysterious Land
  • The River of Heraclitus
  • An Unwritten Story by Somerset Maugham

”Un Unwritten Story by Somerset Maugham”: What Is It About?

According to the author, he met Maugham in 1960 at the latter’s home on the Riviera. They chatted and Maugham gave him a present in the form of a story, which is then told by the author.

I confess that at that point I had my doubts. There are two choices as to how to accomplish the task: to tell it in one’s own words or in Maugham’s words.

Remember that this is translated from Russian, so it is quite impossible to judge the author’s style.

The story is about the Joneses and an artist, a ship captain by trade. The prosperous Joneses are philanthropist and they take to the poor unkempt foul-mouthed alcohol-addict captain, along the lines of Captain Nichols, only less engaging.

Mary Jones, the wife, due to her personal needs to take care of somebody, soon falls in love with the wretched fellow and a ménage à trois comes to a head.

Not particularly pious, Mary doesn’t appear to undergo too much distress, although at the end she can’t hold her secret anymore and declares everything to her husband the famous archeologist recently baroneted.

He does the right thing, as is expected. His love towards Mary overshadows everything else. The situation goes on. Meanwhile, the husband and lover prosper in society, but poor Mary finds herself to be nowhere.

I confess that at the beginning I was looking for a Maugham story, which is doing the author an injustice. After a bit, I overcame that and got along with the story. I was eager to find out how it was supposed to end. The punchline comes too late though; it would have worked fine with a story half the length.

My conclusion is that if you can borrow the book, it is worth reading it.

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