Curtis' study of W. Somerset Maugham is unabashedly middlebrow. ""I have ascended the North Face of Henry James, and the Annapurna of Proust. . . planting here and there my puny flags of understanding [but] I come back to the open, green, cultivated lowlands of Maugham"" -- and what sort of perspective could you expect from there? The size of Maugham's oeuvre of novels, plays, short stories and essays is considerable, and though he continued writing nearly up to his death in 1965, he seems never to have left the drawing room. He was fashionable, elegant, witty, wickedly funny, shockingly cynical -- but never so shocking that he alienated the paying customers. Maugham amassed a tidy fortune which smoothed his ruffled feathers at being ignored by the intelligentsia. Curtis blithely quotes ""the Master's"" sour grapes at the play of ideas and the stream of consciousness novel, but he is unable or unwilling to portray even the tinest of his subject's shortest comings. Readable if overzealous.