The master’s final collection of short stories – it includes tales set in the East and the West. Maugham’s trademark style is stamped all across – the title is an apt illustration of the premise. Ordinary folks are confronted by extraordinary circumstances and the story is but a narrative of what happens after that.
Most of them are tragedies and burnish Maugham’s established image of being a heartless cynic when it comes to affairs of the human heart. And yet there are a few comic gems tucked in as well. They may appear to be frivolous but they do entertain the average reader.
Maugham is generous in providing us a bigger collection to savour this round – in all we have 15 stories. And quite a few are short tales by Maugham’s standards – but his standard formula still applies as they all have a beginning, middle and an end.
The stories are a collection of tales that were published in various magazines and then finally got consolidated herein.
- The Colonel’s Lady – An ironic tale that is a devastating satire of an ageing colonel who never realized the passionate affair his wife had with a young man. Maugham’s classic touch is at work in the surprising climax wherein the Colonel reconciles to his humiliation.
- Flotsam and Jetsam – An intriguing setting on a rubber plantation. A mismatched couple and the wife appearing to have a guilty secret to share. More intrigue on account of a passionate affair that led to the murder. And now the couple are left together in sufferance – the husband cannot let go of his wife without it looking suspicious, the wife finds in mere existence and presence, a way to punish him for ruining her life.
- Appearance and Reality – A modern satire based on French naturalism – it is meant to be a light-hearted story.
- The Mother – A gruesome tale of competing female interests between a mother and the prospective wife, the tale comes to a sordid end.
- Sanatorium – It is marked with cynicism and a keen insight of human nature. And for once, it ends of a note of optimism and positivity.
- A woman of Fifty – Classic tale in Maupassant style – there is a sting in the tale and we think we know it too. Not quite, for the writer throws in yet another delicious twist at the very end of it.
- The Romantic Young Lady – Spanish fairy tale – it is strange and yet intoxicating. Maugham specialized in the vein regarding passion and romance when it came to narrating Spanish tales.
- A Casual Affair – Angst of a sacrifice made for a genuine first love of your life. To see it go waste can wrought such a despair in your heart so that you never quite recover from it.
- The Point of Honour – A Spanish tale again and with the same elements. Honour and revenge prevail over even common sense when the affairs of the heart are at stake.
- Winter Cruise – A lovely comic piece – the insight into human nature are amazing. At the heart of it, it is a simple tale of an middle-aged spinster who spends a winter vacation including Christmas on a cargo ship with only the Ship officers being her hosts and company.
- The Happy Couple – Standard textbook narrative from Maugham’s stock – the twist in interesting but just about.
- A Man From Glasgow – A horror story for a change – Maugham sustains our interest right till the end. He doesn’t end it well though for one is left hankering to know what happened finally.
- The Unconquered – A war tragedy – possibly the best case study of a person combating her circumstances. As the title says it all – she remains unconquered.
- Episode – The tale wrings your heart. It starts like a fairy tale, then there is a bit of a struggle but seemingly true love should triumph. Alas – it is not meant to be as everything falters at the fag-end of the story. And then one is left so disappointed.
- The Kite – A masterclass in human psychology – the Freudian syndrome of a son holding onto his mother’s apron is portrayed in a classic manner.