I’m not sure how Cakes and Ale could be any more mild. I know Maugham wrote it for serialization, but it’s almost like he wanted to write something so generic and so amiable—but reminding, in some ways, of his previous work and especially Of Human Bondage—he structured each chapter around being succinctly diverting. There’s no building in Cakes; the narrator, Ashenden, makes a date to talk to his friend about the famous author’s widow sending him a letter asking for a favor. Of course, Maugham hasn’t resolved whatever Ashenden’s friend wanted, now there’s someone else who wants something. Ashenden doesn’t really want to accommodate either of them. It’s as though Maugham was sick of being asked to do things and decided to passive aggressively turn that dislike into a novel. Otherwise, it’s a fine chapter. After establishing the mystery of the widow’s request and his friend’s appointment to visit him, Ashenden immediately thinks back to when he last met the widow. Cue flashback. It’s a solid flashback, but the mysteriousness had all better pay off.