The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham, By Selina Hastings

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The Independent Culture

In a period when literary biographies have fallen out of favour, Hastings's magisterial life shows us the peaks that the genre can reach.

True, the long-lived (1874-1965), much-travelled, well-connected, gay but married, bestselling author is a nonpareil subject – as other biographers knew.

Hastings caps them all as she traces Maugham's life from orphaned childhood in the age of Disraeli through medical studies, Edwardian and Twenties glamour, wedlock and same-sex liaisons to his swanky ménage with Gerald Haxton on the Riviera.

She writes shrewdly, and justly, about his novels, plays and those terrific Asian-set stories too. The book teems enjoyably with stars, spies and scandals – but the steely Maugham, she grasps, was really only loyal to his desk and pen.