Thursday, August 19, 2010
The Razor's Edge by W Somerset Maugham: Review
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.