Of Human Bondage: bound by convention

Let me begin by stating the (hopefully) obvious: Of Human Bondage is not about BDSM. It’s about the life of a young club-footed boy named Philip. After the death of his mother and father, Philip is raised by his very religious and somewhat unaffectionate aunt and uncle. His life’s journey is, as with most people, a little bumpy. His ambitions in life vary from entering priesthood to becoming a famous painter and a world-traveler. Instead, he is faced with poverty, hunger and constant disappointment. Throughout the novel, Philip becomes more and more disillusioned as he realizes his gazing into the future leaves him disheartened in the present.

A very personal and at times painfully realistic image is drawn of a man desperately trying to make something out of his life. The story’s progression gives you the idea that, with all his set-backs, this boy is somehow destined for greatness. Now imagine the disappointment I felt when our hero finally has the chance to realize all his dreams … and doesn’t. Instead, he makes the anticlimactic decision to become a doctor – like his father – in a small fisherman’s town with a wife whom he feels no passion for, but respects all the same. Philip happily trades his wild dreams for comfort and convention. The final disillusionment is thus the reader’s. But this anticlimax is where the true power of the novel lies. Its realism is so disenchanting you can’t help but feel strangely enchanted. Like being slapped in the face with a velvet glove!

I can honestly say I’ve never enjoyed a book so much in which the protagonist is unattractive, slightly pathetic and constantly making the wrong choices. At times I found myself screaming “NOOOO, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!”, drawing attention to myself in trains, and meeting the stares of my fellow passengers with the look of disappointment still on my face. And in the end, the ultimate shock of realism is the failing catharsis. This isn’t drama, nor is it fantasy; this is pure realism. And semi-autobiographical!

Not for literary lightweights. :)

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