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The Razor's Edge by W. Somerset Maugham

The Razor's Edge (original 1944; edition 2003)

by W. Somerset Maugham

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4,147651,216 (4.12)204
Title:The Razor's Edge
Authors:W. Somerset Maugham
Info:Vintage (2003), Paperback, 320 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Fiction, British, Read, 2003

Work details

The Razor's Edge by W. Somerset Maugham (1944)

  1. 10
    Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham (anabela_aguiar)
    anabela_aguiar: Um dos melhores livros sobre a chegada da idade adulta e todos os factores que influenciam a nossa actuação nesta sociedade.
  2. 10
    On a Chinese Screen by W. Somerset Maugham (John_Vaughan)
  3. 00
    The Fires of Autumn by Irène Némirovsky (librorumamans)
    librorumamans: Both Némirovsky and Maugham look at the effects of World War I on individuals and on social values. Both are fine novels.
  4. 00
    Narcissus and Goldmund by Hermann Hesse (CGlanovsky)
    CGlanovsky: A young man on a journey, both literally and spiritually. Philosophical.
  5. 00
    Collected Short Stories, volume 2 by W. Somerset Maugham (John_Vaughan)

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English (60)  Italian (2)  French (1)  Hebrew (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (65)
Showing 1-5 of 60 (next | show all)
it was the Bill Murray movie that introduced me to Maugham and to many ideas. i was young when i first encountered the movie and it affected me greatly. this is the first book of his i’ve read. now, i want to read more.

the juxtaposing of socialite, aristocratic society with the calm, unassuming focal character Larry (he isn’t truly the “protagonist”) is done with a seemingly light air but curls into a kind of tongue-in-cheek smirk aimed at contrived culture. as Larry acts as a “razor’s edge” cutting through all the pomp and circumstance of Western culture, so does the book with Maugham himself as the eyes through which we watch Larry.

setting Larry as a distance from the reader helps to make the razor that much sharper. because Maugham records him almost as a bit player, walking on and off set but creating a standard by which we can contrast everything else he has chosen to show us, he can choose the manner of our perspective, give it a twist later, and have it transform into a very different creature just like an optical illusion.

his friends think Larry’s life if useless, trivial, and utterly wasteful and yet they continue to want him around, in the end thinking a great deal of him despite their earlier convictions. later in life, they begin to see the wisdom of Larry’s choices though they themselves would never make those same choices. like everything in their lives, he becomes just one more asset to be used and even coveted by them. meanwhile, Larry continues to be Larry and acts as selflessly and ephemerally disconnected as ever, effortlessly letting them dissect themselves against his calm being that is at odds with almost everything they value.

the book does a fantastic job of escorting us through European uppercrust society during the early twentieth century and watching it react to an individual sincerely looking for meaning in life. Isabel asks Maugham (for he is a character in his own book) why Larry is so “queer” and at odds with everything. He responds that Larry has something “so commonplace that one simply doesn’t notice it... goodness.” she struggles with this and never quite succumbs to the truth of it: Larry does not attempt to play Culture’s game and so Culture mistrusts and resents him. a very subtle glimpse into the world of intellectual and spiritual xenophobia. ( )
  keebrook | Mar 10, 2015 |
I enjoy Maugham's style of writing. He paints his characters very vividly and very humanly. None of his characters are absolutely good or absolutely evil, and even though I thought he would set up Larry as some sort of saintly figure, he is also revealed for his faults.

Part of the reason I didn't absolutely fall in love with the book is that I am not fond of the 'rich people travelling at leisure and laughing at the poorer classes in the swinging 20s' setting. If you loved The Great Gatsby, this book has many parallels. I also tend to shy away from books that are told such as this one is: where the narrator is merely flipping between various social occasions, none of which he is a central part of, simply relating others' lives through his point of view. However, I did enjoy Maugham's discussion of up-and-coming America and the comparison to established Europe. This is a coming of age story in a way, but through the point of view of an older character.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. It isn't something I'd reread, but I would take a chance on his other works, as this is the first novel I have read by Maugham. ( )
  CandiedMapleLeaves | Mar 2, 2015 |
Is there a trope in Eastern literature where an unhappy young man journeys to the West and learns things from a priest, or monk, or some such person, how to be at peace with life? And maybe some mystic powers that impress everyone back home in the bargain? Just curious. ( )
1 vote BayardUS | Dec 10, 2014 |
While in his opening Maugham states this book isn’t fiction and that all the direct speech is simply as true a recreation he can make of the conversations that happened, it seems to me that he probably only based his story on people and events he knew about and that he shaped the characters and plot to suit his aim of creating an interesting novel.

I think he’s managed this quite well and of course he was hugely successful in his life-time. I wonder, though, what so many of his contemporary readers got out of this novel about very wealthy people for whom life revolved around social occasions. Obviously Larry is the exception and deliberate contrast here but it does seem to me that Maugham, including himself as a character in this book, was exposing himself as a snob as clearly as Maugham portrays Elliott as one. The clubs, the hotels, the lunches, his sojourns here and there, his tailor – these may all have been comparatively normal for the wealthy between the wars but definitely not common and not the preserve of his readers – so perhaps they just liked reading about the lifestyles of the wealthy. Sentences like ‘American women expect to find in their husbands a perfection that English women only hope to find in their butlers’ no doubt seemed witty to Maugham but strikes a different note to me today just as “I knew a hotel where one ate tolerably’ seems so judgemental as if Maugham couldn’t contemplate anything outside upper class expectations.

I guess Maugham is really as major a character in this book, for the reader today anyway, as any of the others. He comes across as paternalistic, tolerant and having insight when compared to others but what interested me most, looking back on the novel, are the opinions that emerge in the novel, opinions that would seem to be found today. For example, Elliott suggests affairs outside marriage shouldn’t be taken seriously – just ‘flings’ – while the narrator has the opinion that promiscuity and drinking a lot weren’t moral failures but just bad habits. And he also tells Isabel that self-sacrifice is a scheme of the devil’s – and he suggests this while World War 2 is taking place in the country in which he has set his novel. I’d have thought all these ideas, and especially the last, would have upset quite a few of his readers, but it does seem to me that Maugham’s ability to transcend the trends of his time philosophically is what makes this book resonate today, something that is ironic when we see how clearly he is attached to his ideas of society and what’s acceptable here. Towards the end when Larry expounds what he sees as the short-comings of Christianity and promotes the idea of the transmigration of souls, coming to develop this belief in India, it is convincing in part but, from my point of view, rather stretching my credulity, especially Larry’s trick of being able to make people raise their arms without them willing it. ( )
  evening | Nov 3, 2014 |
Somerset Maugham masterfully dissects and exposes human nature at its best and at its worst. Bill Murray did a wonderful job in his version of this movie, and his version was truer to the novel. I'd highly recommend both the book and the movie. ( )
  vdunn | Apr 30, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (20 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
W. Somerset Maughamprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Kelk, C.J.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Maddigan, AngelaIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Page, MichaelReadersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tarner, MargaretEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over;
thus the wise say the path to Salvation is hard.

~ Katha-Upanishad
First words
I have never begun a novel with more misgiving. If I call it a novel it is only because I don't know what else to call it.
A mother only does her children harm if she makes them the only concern of her life.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140185232, Paperback)

The story of the spiritual odyssey of a young American in search of God.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:46:01 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Leaving wealth and loved ones behind, Larry Darrell journeys to the mountains of India in search of spiritual wisdom.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 7 descriptions

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