Book Review: The Gioconda Smile (Aldous Huxley).

I found this short story The Gioconda Smile by Aldous Huxley in a short story book I borrowed from the library. Honestly, I had heard of the author, but never read any of his works before. When I found the story, it seemed interesting, especially the title, and it was why I chose to read it.

The story focuses on Mr. Hutton, a rich and uncaring womanizer. He is visiting a lady Janet Spence who spends her days taking care of her father. Mr. Hutton casually flirts with her and in his head, refers to her smile as the Gioconda Smile. He does seem fascinated by her because she is extremely composed, and he can’t figure her out. He mentions his wife Emily and hints at their unhappy marriage.

When Mr. Hutton leaves Janet Spence’s house, he has his mistress waiting for him a little down the road. I don’t know if the way their characters interact with each other is supposed to be annoying, but it was for me. It seems completely insincere on his part, and she is too much in love or constantly says it. It annoyed me a little bit with such behavior, but maybe that’s the point. Mr. Hutton’s wife Emily has been unwell for a while, and he does try to pretend, that he cares and is happy with her when she is around. Being with a person who has been unwell most of the years you are together; does take a toll on a person emotionally. But, it is not like he thought much of Emily when they married each other than the fact she suited his bill for a wife.

Janet visits the Huttons’ and spends time with Emily. She lends a sympathetic ear to Emily and is kind to her, even taking her side against Mr. Hutton. Soon after the visit, Emily dies, and Mr. Hutton is quick to marry his mistress. Mr. Hutton does seem like an intelligent and reasonable person other than his immoral behavior. He is the kind of person who is comfortable with how he is and does not feel ashamed of his thoughts and behavior even when he knows it’s not right. An unnamed maid has concerns about Emily’s death not being natural. The story becomes an unexpected murder mystery when Mr. Hutton is arrested for Emily’s death as her autopsy reveals she died of poisoning.

The narrator of the story is Mr. Hutton, and his narration is at times, a little confusing, but not completely unreliable. So, when he is arrested, it doesn’t make sense because the reader is pretty sure that Mr. Hutton is innocent. The main theme of the story to put it simply is, ‘what goes around comes back around’. The way Mr. Hutton is careless about the people in his life and selfish in his attitude towards them is what ends up happening to him. In the end, it is someone else’s selfishness and carelessness, that gets him. There are hints from the start as to who is the one behind Emily’s death through descriptions, which I only realized at the end of the story.

Having never read Aldous Huxley’s works before, I didn’t know what to expect in terms of writing. It flowed freely, and in the beginning, it was descriptive, but then, that was toned down. It maintains a good tone and tempo that keeps you engaged as a reader. The characters other than Mr. Hutton are mainly in the background, so we don’t know too much about them. Mr. Hutton’s character is unlikeable, but for some reason, it is a little sad as it is satisfying to see how things end for him.

I read The Gioconda Smile in one sitting. It’s a little longer for a short story, at least page-wise, but it keeps you interested. I had to research a little about the term ‘Gioconda Smile’ because I didn’t know what it was before I read this story. Overall, it’s an interesting story, and I enjoyed reading it. Also, it familiarized me with Huxley’s writing style a bit, so now, I might try to read his other works.

*Click on the book cover above to get a copy.

Author: Aarti Athavle

Daydreamer - Writer - Bibliophile

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