Title: The Razor’s Edge
Author: W. Somerset Maugham
Synopsis (Courtesy of Powell’s Books): “Larry Darrell is a young American in search of the absolute. The progress of his spiritual odyssey involves him with some of Maugham’s most brilliant characters — his fiancée Isabel whose choice between love and wealth have lifelong repercussions, and Elliott Templeton, her uncle, a classic expatriate American snob. Maugham himself wanders in and out of the story, to observe his characters struggling with their fates.”
Thoughts: The Razor’s Edge is a subtle novel. The action is slight while the character development is not visibly apparent, and yet, each of the characters has matured and grown in such a way that the reader is left feeling completely satisfied upon finishing reading it. In addition, it is designed in such a way that different characters will appeal to different readers. The end result is a lush novel revolving around the search for happiness and what it means to different people.
The main story revolves around Larry, a WWI veteran who returns from the war facing a spiritual crisis. The narrator, Maugham himself, then proceeds to share his knowledge on how Larry manages to go through life searching for answers that will assuage the crisis and help him achieve peace and happiness. The reader is also introduced to several dissimilar characters who all help define Larry’s search – Elliott, the wealthy snob with a soft spot for his family, Isabel, Larry’s former fiance, Gray, the man Isabel eventually marries, Sophie, and a cast of other characters. Each is flawed, each is unhappy and searching for something to help ease their pain. Their journeys, as told through Maugham’s eyes as the ever-present narrator/friend of the participants of the tableau, and the subsequent endings of those journeys provide the reader with ample ideas on what true happiness entails. Materialistic or spiritualistic, everyone seeks some form of satisfaction in their life. The forms it takes is uniquely personal and what makes life worth living.
Highly philosophical in nature, The Razor’s Edge is definitely a thinking person’s novel.
“Nothing in the world is permanent, and we’re foolish when we ask anything to last, but surely we’re still more foolish not to take delight in it while we have it.” (p. 277)
Published in 1943, it promotes the currently popular Eastern philosophies touted in such novels as Eat, Pray, Love and the like. Yet, The Razor’s Edge is not a sermon. Rather, it is an expression of love and acceptance. Everyone’s search will result in a different ending, and that is okay. To quote a friend, “life is a journey”. This is a sentiment prevalent in The Razor’s Edge.
I fear that words have failed to describe how much I adored this novel. I empathized with Larry in his search for peace, while several members of my book club felt for Isabel and her search for social acceptance. Each reader will bring his or her own biases to the novel and will walk away with a completely different take on the meaning behind the story and on Maugham’s purpose in writing it. I love novels that are like this. Having read several of Maugham’s other novels to date, The Razor’s Edge solidified Maugham’s place near the top of my list of all-time favorite authors. It truly is the epitome of historical, literary fiction.