Hitting the double figures with this small delight, yet the title is misleading as the book is not about food and drink.
Cakes and Ale is a book within a book, like Inception is a dream within a dream. W.Somerset Maugham's aim is to be ironic about the world of an author.
The main character, William Ashenden, tells us through the first person narrative the true story. It is the surrounding characters who have their own ideals. For example Alroy Kear is attempting to write a book to launch his name again, but he requires Ashenden's knowledge of Edward Driffield and his first wife Rosie.
The book is light in tone, it is humorous and ironic, like Jane Austen is with Pride and Prejudice, a caricature. Ashenden is considered the outsider by everyone, but ironically he is the only one who knows the true story. Everyone else including Driffield's second wife Amy, are trying to create a story which they want.
Only by doing research have I found the relevance of the title, it is from a line in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night;
"Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?"
Now that I know this it makes much more sense because Maugham is challenging the conservative nature of many of the characters, who are still very Victorian.
He creates Rosie, Driffield's first wife who is flirtatious, honest and confident in her sexuality. She is mistaken for common and a harlot as she has an easy going persona, making men flock to her. Including Ashenden, yet he is the only one who understands her. It is this fresh take that keeps the book from being stale.
Thoroughly enjoyable and very short, again the ending is not how you would like it to be, but it is the right one.