When I was in my early twenties my father recommended Somerset Maugham to me. I remember reading ‘The Razor’s Edge’, but truth be told, twenty odd years later I couldn’t remember much about it.
Maugham wrote the book in 1944 and there has been much speculation over the years as to where he got his inspiration for the main character of Larry.
The book is narrated by Maugham himself, who wanders in and out of the story at will, as he follows the lives of a group of characters over a twenty-year period. The story begins in Chicago in 1919. Larry Darrell had been a pilot during the first World War. He is engaged to Isabel who adores him. Isabel’s uncle, Elliot Templeton is a snob and a social climber. He wants a good match for Isabel. When Larry shows no signs of wanting to work, and turns down a good job offered by the father of his friend Grey Maturin, Elliot is concerned.
Larry wishes to travel and to, as he calls it, ‘loaf’ but Isabel is used to having money, so after trying to persuade Larry to get a job, to which he obstinately refuses, they break off their engagement and she marries Gray Maturin a very successful stock broker.
Larry sets out on a spiritual quest to try and find the purpose of his life and life in general. The reason for this is as enigmatic as Larry himself. Could it be due to the incident that happened during the war, where a friend died saving his life? We know it affected Larry deeply but he seems as unsure of his path as everyone else.
Without revealing any more of the plot, the novel weaves a fascinating path as it follows the lives of all of the main characters, as mentioned above. There is also another important character called Sophie, who reveals more about Isabel’s character to us than any dialogue could ever do.
Maugham manages to balance a beautiful clear fluid style with an engaging narrative. This is most definitely a character based novel. If you are looking for action, this is not the book for you. However, if you like a good psychological drama, where characters flaws, fears, secrets and desires are gradually revealed through a series of circumstances, then look no further.
For a taster of Maugham’s wonderfully easy narrative style and characterization, his early description of Elliot Templeton is a good example:
“He was a colossal snob. He was a snob without shame. He would put up with any affront, he would ignore any rebuff, he would swallow any rudeness to get asked to a party he wanted to go to or to make a connexion with some crusty old dowager of great name.”
This novel is right up my street. I love novels that contain deep characterization and exploration of a character’s motives, which this novel has in abundance. It also has wonderful settings in Paris, the Riviera and Chicago.
I feel I cannot do it justice with a simple book review. I would suggest giving it a go. It is the sort of novel I feel you will either love or hate, and you should know pretty quickly.
I personally think Maugham is a genius and I might even be tempted to try and read ‘Of Human Bondage’ now, which is a tome and a half!
Please do let me know if you have read it. I think it is my favourite from my list of betterment so far and a novel I will definitely re-read. How did you like it or did you hate it? If so, why?
Next month’s list of betterment read is Atomised by Michel Houellebecq. This one I am reading because Andy Miller from The Year of Reading Dangerously raved about it. I am not so sure?! For the full list of my reading goals for 2017 see here: