Book Review – The Razor’s Edge by W. Somerset Maugham

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Yes, it’s another Maugham novel! This one is quite interesting, the main thrust being Larry Darrell, who is searching for a meaning for life after a horrific experience in war. The cast that rotate around him include his former fiancée and her new husband, as well as Maugham himself, who enters the novel and comments on proceedings, offering up his own opinion of things.

This is one of those novels that I could have read forever. Absolutely loved it. Sometimes reading Maugham is like reading the deepest truths that reside in my own soul. Each character is so well-drawn, especially Isabel, Larry’s fiancée. Larry is a fascinating character too as he’s a war veteran who isn’t wrapped up in turmoil or bitterness. Instead, he seems to have returned from the war rather bemused, with a need to find out the nature of life and death and what is the meaning of it all. It’s an urge to which I can relate. What most surprised is how absent Larry is for much of the novel. The blurb on the back will tell you that it’s about his odyssey but really he disappears from the narrative only to come back at random intervals.

But that’s not a detriment as the other characters are interesting in their own right. Maugham offers commentary upon them all, sometimes rather acerbically and yet you get the sense that it’s rather self-deprecating on him since, in his own words, each one of the characters seemed to get what they want. The main theme of the novel seemed to be to live your life the way you want it, because that’s the only way you’ll find happiness. Larry was the embodiment of this as he lived the way he wanted and didn’t pass judgment on anyone else. I rather wonder whether Maugham felt as though he was going to be as successful in finding a meaning to life as his characters were, since he left himself out of the list of those he considered ended up happy. Of course, that could just be because he was observing them and wanted to keep himself as distinct from the story as possible.

At one point towards the end Maugham recounts the conversation he had with Larry, which he claims inspired him to write the novel. The entire section is devoted to a conversation which is mostly comprised of Larry orating about his experiences in India with Eastern mysticism. It’s fascinating and although it’s not as revelatory as it may have been when The Razor’s Edge was written, it’s still a joy to read.

One quote that stuck out to me is that Larry was ‘a religious man who didn’t believe in God’. I found this to be thoughtful and it’s something that has been lingering on my mind the past few days. I’ve read a few things that wonder whether the novel is fictional or not – Maugham claims that he has invented nothing. I’m not sure that it matters really, but I believe there’s as much truth in it as there is in any other novel. That is to say, perhaps the names, dates etc may have changed but the essences of the characters and the themes presented are true.

I absolutely adore this book. It’s an excellent read, dealing with themes that are close to my heart. I enjoyed the narrative technique of Maugham inserting himself into the narrative as well as the depth and complexity of the characters. I highly recommend this, and I think if you haven’t read any of Maugham’s works before this is a good place to begin.

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