The Painted Veil: A gorgeous novel

Originally published on May 3, 2007.

Although I don’t reveal big plot spoilers, this post is not devoid of the details of the novel. Proceed at your own risk….

The Painted Veil describes several weeks in the life of Kitty Fane (nee Gastin), a small-time London socialite who married shy and lovestruck Walter Fane not because she loved him but because she couldn’t bear to be married later than her sister who is five years her junior. They move immediately to Hong Kong where within their ex-pat society she meets dashing Charlie Townsend and feels the kind of love she’s been waiting for all her life. When Walter finds out about her infidelity, he punishes her (and himself) by taking a posting in a remote, cholera-stricken town.

That is basically what everyone knows about the book and the movie based on the novel. I heard the acting was somewhat wooden, the scenery (actually filmed in China) was breath-taking, and that the novel was a gorgeous depiction of life in Hong Kong at the turn of the century.

Because I don’t end up watching half as many movies as I would if they were free/I had time, I read up about the ones I’m interested in. As such, I have a tendency to spoil things terribly for myself. It seems that the climax that I heard of pertains to the movie and not the novel and I’m not entirely certain if the aftermath of the movie will follow the novel. We’ll see, because I’m still piqued to see the movie adaptation.

What impressed upon me – makes the book memorable and real – is the last few chapters where the reader is reminded again of the girls’ upbringing. Kitty was the one with breath-taking beauty and upon whom the ambitious mother had most hopes for marrying well. She was a bit foolish and declined sub-par proposals for years after her debut. As her looks and the proposals started to fade (just five years after her debut), her plain (but possibly more sensible) sister came out and was engaged at once. So Kitty made that rash decision to marry the last person she could care for who was the first person in front of her.

As was the thinking in those times, daughters are burdens you marry off and it’s a nuisance should they come back as divorcees or whatever reason so Kitty finds herself with no one to turn to. When she finally returns to her father, she has changed by her trials and sees him in a new light. While the mother was overbearing and lead the girls to generally treat him only as a bread-winner who did not do a sufficiently good job, through her trials her view has been adjusted. The years have taken a toll and created a guarded attitude in the father regarding his daughters but he is not inpenetrable and father and daughter come to a wonderful arrangement.

Now, I don’t want to elaborate on how I see parallels with my family and only to say it’s because I saw those parallels I was devouring the last few chapters.

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