Liza of Lambeth, this first novel by the young Somerset Maugham - he was 23 when it was published in 1897 - has its good points. It's an introduction to Maugham's fiction, a place from which to begin watching the honing of his novelistic skills. It is a glimpse into working class life in London's East End slum, Lambeth. And the plot, although a bit worn, is worn because it works.
It's a story of a good girl gone wrong with plenty of blame to go around. Liza is 18, lively, laughing, and popular with everyone in her neighborhood, children and adults both. The early scene where she plays cricket in the street with the young boys is charming.
But she is not firm in her decisions. She dismisses her doting suitor, Tom, but then when she sees him going with her friends on an outing she wants so much to go that she gives in and says yes to his invitation. This is a foreshadowing of a later and more serious compromise after her initial rejection of another man.
I can't remember now where I got the idea that the book was a very long one. But I did think so and I almost quit reading near the end of the novel thinking I was only a fifth of the way through. This is one of the problems with reading on a Kindle something that is part of "the collected works." You have little idea where you are in a novel without poking around and doing a little arithmetic. But I persevered and the end came quickly - a bit too quickly, as though Maugham got tired of the story and decided to end it all abruptly.
The novel is late Victorian and so everyone must get his or her just rewards, which makes the ending predictable. But the most serious problem with the book for me was the Cockney dialect, which is heavy and difficult to read. I understand the non-rhotic R (I practice it myself), T pronounced F, TH pronounced V, the glottal stop, double negatives, and dropping the initial H. Nonetheless, it can be difficult to understand when listened to and frustrating to read.
So how did a man like Somerset Maugham become so familiar with the language and lives of the people in Lambeth? He trained as a doctor and spent a good deal of time at St Thomas' Hospital, which is in Lambeth. And I do understand that Lambeth is not within the sound of Bow Bellls or even technically in the East End. But it was close enough in the late 19th century when Maugham was treating and coming to know the people there, with whom he had great sympathy.