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William Ashenden is an author of reasonable success, who is contacted by an old friend – fellow author and literary darling Alroy Kear, who in turn has been asked to write a biography of a recently deceased writer named Edward Driffield, by Driffield’s widow.  Kear – and Driffield’s widow Amy – want William’s help, as he knew Driffield many years earlier.  This request sparks William’s memory, and the majority of Cakes and Ale is written in flashback, as William – who also narrates the story recalls his friendship with Edward Driffield and his first wife Rosie.

Here, he faces a dilemma, because Rosie is remembered with disdain and even disgust by most people, due to her promiscuity, and her unfaithfulness to her husband.  However, William remembers her with affection, and is concerned over how much to tell Kear, and what exactly should appear in Kear’s biography.

I have never read anything by W. Somerset Maugham before, and was not sure what to expect.  I was thoroughly charmed by this novel.  It is narrated in a meandering fashion – laced with cynicism, but also very wry and humorous in parts.  William, who was clearly something of a wannabe snob in his earlier years, has clearly mellowed with age, and is able to think of Rosie without disapproval; seemingly the only person who is willing or able to do so.  The story is written in a conversational manner, and William’s observations about small town life, and the people who inhabited his childhood village were sharp and very ‘on the ball’ (I definitely felt like I knew some of these people!)

It sounds contradictory, but while quite a lot happens, it feels also like not much happens – perhaps because the main bulk of the story is written as a reminiscence, rather than events which are taking place in the present time.  It’s a light and easy read, and one that is perfect to curl up on the sofa with on a rainy day.

I would definitely recommend this book, and will be seeking out more work by Maugham as a result of reading it.

 

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