August 19, 2010

The Razor's Edge by W Somerset Maugham: Review

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Sit right down, my children, and let me tell you a tale. Well, actually Maugham will tell you a tale, a tale of this guy he once knew. The guy is Larry Darrell who saw some bad stuff in The Great War and it changed him. What hasn't changed are the people he grew up with, the nouveau riche of the Midwest US, especially his fiance Isabel.

Larry decides he needs to go off to France to find God. Isabel, under the impression that he'll come back fixed, sends him off with her blessing. Two years later, she goes off to drag him back home but Larry still hasn't found the meaning of life. He suggests they get married anyway. His idea of a nice life is a rented room with cheap furniture; Isabel's is fancy dresses and dinner parties every evening. Isabel does the math and the sum is negative Larry. She says au revoir and the two shake hands as friends. The problem is Isabel never really let's Larry go and that's where the trouble lies.

The Razor's Edge by W Somerset Maugham is an odd little book where nothing much happens. It's a thoughtful look at a man trying to make sense of the world and the consequences of that search. Larry could go along with what his peers wish: get a good job, marry Isabel, live in a nice house and host nice parties. Larry instead chooses to go his own way. I imagine Larry as a hippie even though the book was written decades before the whole peace and love, man revolution. He's easy going, just soaking up the knowledge from the people he meets along the way. Cool, man.

Isabel, on the other hand, is tightly wound. She's got a steely edged determination. She wants her life to be a certain way but she's still able to cope with whatever bumps in the road appear. At least she has the sense to see that she and Larry are incompatible. What a mess they would have made of things. She continues to carry a torch for him and it leads to her meddling ways. She performs a nasty bit of trickier under the guise that she is looking out for him.

The writing style is very interesting. Maugham sets up the story as if he's chatting with the reader over coffee. The writer is a character in his own novel. Is any of it real? I found it hard to believe that Maugham just happened to bump into so-and-so at a cafe in France or 10 years later at a party. Plus, everyone just unburdens themselves in his presence, some of the things the characters tell him are very personal.

The Razor's Edge is worth reading. It's a fairly easy read but still makes you think. Maugham's approach to religious and social issues is wrapped up in an engaging story. It's a thoughtful burrito of literature.

Recommended

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9 comments :

  1. Sounds interesting. I've been meaning to read more of his work. I loved The Painted Veil--such a beautiful book, and so much better than the movie.

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  2. I doubt I'll read this one. First of all, I'm intimidated by Somerset Maugham and second of all it sounds too slow for me.

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  3. I haven't read this book since high school, but it made Maugham one of my favorite authors. Perhaps I should go back and revisit it.

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  4. I read this one for a library book club and I remember I loved it and the others hated it! I'm glad to hear someone else enjoyed it. It's been on my mind lately because of all the attention surrounding Eat, Pray, Love. I somehow put them in the same category, although I couldn't finish Eat, Pray, Love.

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  5. I read this and Of Human Bondage in early adulthood. I think I need to re-read them both. I enjoyed them both immensely but really need to reaquaint myself with them.

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  6. I really enjoy reading Maugham, but I have yet to pick this one up. I feel as though I need to and soon! I'm so glad to have seen a review about it.

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  7. I like both versions of this movie.

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  8. I loved this one! And having just read Maugham's writing memoir, I know he did know a LOT of famous people, and he rather often just bumped into them while he was traveling around. :D

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  9. I have a few of his books but have only read The Painted Veil. I need to change this soon.

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