Standalone Sunday is created by Megan at Bookslayer Reads, for all those great books that are NOT a part of a series.
Title: Cakes and Ale
Author: M. Somerset Maughm
Setting: 1930s England, but also full of flashbacks
Themes: writing, class, sex, relationships
Source: book club
Plot: Sycophantic writer Alroy Kear is delighted to be asked to write a biography of another (much better) recently deceased novelist Edward Driffield. He’s got most of the stuff from his widow, and has prepared a suitably reverent draft. But he’s missing the stuff about Driffield’s first wife, Rosie the barmaid.
Rosie (the barmaid) had a big impact on Driffield’s writing. All his best stuff was written while they were together. But only a few will admit to knowing her, including ANOTHER writer named Ashenden, and he is the POV character for the book. Ashenden, like many others, was in love with Rosie, and he remembers them both from when he was young.
I hope that’s not confusing, but it makes sense when you read it.
Review: This is not a book I ever would have picked up on my own. I like books about writers, but I wouldn’t have even heard of this one if not for book club. The woman who picked it is a fan of Maughm’s, but she hadn’t read this one, so she thought maybe it would be fun. Well, she didn’t love it, but I thought it was very good. Maybe you have to be a writer to really appreciate it, but there are so many sly comments about writing, publishing, readers, about the fans of famous writers, etc, that I found myself smiling as I read.
The biggest theme of the book, besides writing, is really about class. Rosie, as a barmaid, is a definite cut below the widow, who was a nurse. And two classes below Driffield, a gentleman, who was looked on as a definite eccentric for marrying such an “unsuitable” woman. As an American, I didn’t understand that completely, but even in the US, we judge people by their social status and economic status. If a lawyer married a cocktail waitress, his colleagues would talk, no matter what she was like.
Finally, sex and relationships were a big theme in this one. Rosie was pretty amoral – she loved whom she loved, and she didn’t see anything wrong with that. Surprisingly, it didn’t seem to bother her husband. I know that open relationships are growing in popularity, but I am pretty darn conservative, and I have trouble believing that there wouldn’t be more consequences to her love life.
I found this a pretty easy read. There were some passages where Maughm gets to talking about writing and the writing world that went on too long, so I skimmed ahead. And there’s one romantic encounter described in more detail than I enjoyed. Otherwise, it was a fun book and I think I’ll check out more by this author. 3.8 stars out of 5.
**A Note here about Own Voices – M. Somerset Maughm was a bisexual, but to me at least, I didn’t pick up on a lot of LGBT themes in this book. The POV character Ashenden is supposed to be based on him, but like I mentioned, he was in love with Rosie and has a brief affair with her. She is his only lover referenced in the book. Maybe it’s because of my straight bias, but I didn’t really pick up on any other undercurrents. It’s possible that Ashenden has romantic or sexual feelings toward Driffield, but I didn’t pick up on it. I think it’s more of a theme in some of his other works.