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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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4,423771,108 (4.1)223
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
    Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius by Ray Monk (JuliaMaria)
  4. 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.
  5. 00
    Narcissus and Goldmund by Hermann Hesse (CGlanovsky)
    CGlanovsky: A young man on a journey, both literally and spiritually. Philosophical.
  6. 00
    Collected Short Stories, volume 2 by W. Somerset Maugham (John_Vaughan)

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Showing 1-5 of 70 (next | show all)
4.5 stars rounded up to 5. I love Maugham's writing style- it's so engaging. Primarily character studies, this book is the stories of American expatriates in Europe, primarily Paris. Each is searching for meaning in their own way, and Maugham keeps the reader interested clear through. ( )
  tstan | Sep 4, 2016 |
It was a real pleasure to reread this book after many years. I love Maugham's style and strength with characters. All the main players in this story are flawed in some way. Even the saintly Larry causes a lot of pain as he rejects the world in his quest for spiritual meaning. The self-indulgence of the moneyed classes is quite startling. I suppose it is still like this in privileged circles but somehow, I think the servants and parties and lavish extravagance must have been tempered. Maugham provides remarkable contrasts between the haves and have-nots, not always to the former's advantage. A great book. Now I want to read and reread more from the author. ( )
  rosiezbanks | May 23, 2016 |
Wounded and traumatized by the death of a comrade in the War, Larry returns to Lake Forest, Illinois and his fiancée, Isabel, only to announce that he does not plan to work and instead will "loaf" on his small inheritance. He wants to delay their marriage and refuses to take up a job as a stockbroker offered to him by the father of his friend Gray, Henry Maturin. Meanwhile, Larry’s childhood friend, Sophie, settles into a happy marriage, only later tragically losing her husband and baby in a car accident.

Larry moves to Paris and immerses himself in study and bohemian life. After two years of this "loafing", Isabel visits and Larry asks her to join his life of wandering and searching, living in Paris and traveling with little money. She cannot accept his vision of life and breaks their engagement to go back to Chicago. There she marries the millionaire Gray, who provides her a rich family life. Meanwhile, Larry begins a sojourn through Europe taking a job at a coal mine in Lens, France where he befriends a former Polish army officer named Kosti. Kosti encourages Larry to look toward things spiritual for his answers rather than in books. Larry and Kosti leave the coal mine and travel together for a time then part ways. Larry then meets a Benedictine monk named Father Ensheim in Bonn, Germany while Father Ensheim is on leave from his monastery doing academic research. Father Ensheim, having certain insights other than strictly western spiritual influences, suggests Larry widen his spiritual perimeters and go to India in search of answers.

Larry has significant spiritual adventures in India and comes back to the City of Light. What he actually found in India and what he finally concluded are held back from the reader for a considerable time until, in a scene late in the book, Maugham discusses India and spirituality with Larry in a café long into the evening.

The 1929 Stock Market crash has ruined Gray, and he and Isabel are invited to live in her Uncle Elliott’s grand Parisian house. Gray is often incapacitated with agonizing migraines due to a general nervous collapse. Larry is able to help him using an Indian form of hypnotic suggestion. Sophie has also drifted to the French capital, where her friends find her reduced to alcohol, opium, and promiscuity — empty and dangerous liaisons that seem to help her to bury her pain. Larry first sets out to save her and then decides to marry her, something that won’t be tolerated by Isabel, who is still in love with him.

Isabel invites Sophie out on the pretext of shopping for a wedding dress. She arranges to leave Sophie alone with a bottle of Żubrówka, and Sophie, tempted, falls off the wagon, and disappears from Paris. At this point Maugham the narrator comes back on the scene to tell what happens and to play amateur detective. He runs into Sophie in Toulon, where he finds her on the arm of a sailor who is "dumb but beautiful". Sophie is past redemption and admits to Maugham that she’s not worthy of Larry. "When it came to the point, I couldn’t see myself being Mary Magdalen to his Jesus Christ." Maugham learns later that Sophie has been murdered, her throat cut.

Meanwhile in Antibes, Elliott Templeton, who has compulsively throughout his life sought out aristocratic society, is on his deathbed. None of his titled friends come to see him but he ignores his loss. "I have always moved in the best society in Europe, and I have no doubt that I shall move in the best society in heaven."

Isabel inherits his fortune, but genuinely grieves for her uncle. Maugham confronts her about Sophie, having figured out Isabel’s role in Sophie’s downfall. Isabel’s only punishment will be that she will never get Larry, who has decided to return to America and live as a common working man. He is uninterested in the rich and glamorous world that Isabel will move in. Maugham ends his narrative by suggesting that all the characters got what they wanted in the end: "Elliott social eminence; Isabel an assured position; ... Sophie death; and Larry happiness".

  bostonwendym | Mar 3, 2016 |
When I first read this, I was too overwhelmed to try to sum up my feelings about it with just a bit of text. (Plus, I wasn't on Goodreads at the time.) There is still no earthly way that I can convey how fantastic this book is, but I did want to mention what still strikes me years later.

In the hands of most authors, this book would focus on Larry, the young man who abandons a life of privilege to seek enlightenment and meaning after terrible experiences in the Great War. His fiancee, who breaks her engagement with him when she realizes that his priorities will never be worldly, would be the villain, an example of how foolish and narrow-minded Society can be. And Maugham follows this cliche--to a point. He shows us all the downsides of bowing to the conservative demands of other people's opinions. But he also gives the fiancee a voice. And she, in a truly unique flip on the "support the Great Thinker!" trope, asks, (I'm paraphrasing here--Maugham's words are more natural and nuanced) "and what are we to live on? If he's out chasing transcendentalism, how am I supposed to feed myself, or any children we have? I love him, but I have my own set of values." And even better, Isabel refuses to feel bad about this choice. She likes pearls and nice food, and doesn't want to travel, or live in a hovel. She's not interested in whether Larry understands his place in the universe or not.

I have read countless stories in which the characters who are not spiritual or artistic are not valued. They are simply the villains or the foils. Being "worldly" is always a condemnation. Pursuing money in any way is seen as crass and loathsome. And as for not marrying for love! Isabel is not the heroine of this book; she has an ordinary intellect and a conventional, unexciting life. But I don't think Larry was the hero, either. Maugham does not present one choice as completely right, and the other as completely wrong. To be perfectly frank, I can't think of another male author (of Maugham's era or before) who understood that not everyone can live on sensibility; that supporting an artist or a saint is all and very well, but there's more to life than being someone's adoring crutch. I am amazed at his sensitivity. ( )
  wealhtheowwylfing | Feb 29, 2016 |
For a work about self-absorbed characters on concurrent quests to attain enlightenment or materialism, the novel ignores the trope of complete condemnation of one and crowning of the other and is sparing in its use of metaphors and florid literary embellishments. Instead, the novel is Larry personified, quietly unassuming, sporadically appearing in the timeline to discourse on philosophical and existential ideals in its own conversational and non-judgmental way, accepting of its fellow character's flaws.

Undoubtedly the highlight of the novel is the characters. The best is, of course, Isabel whose self-awareness of her petty jealousies and spoiltness is a refreshing relief, standing out even in a cast of characters such as this one, each with their selfish desires and vices. With the exception of the Great Depression during which all the characters basically escaped unscathed, nothing of importance really happens, or at least, things happened but everybody still managed to live the life they wanted. Yet somehow, some inexplicable combination of ordinary prose, ordinary characters and ordinary plotting contrived to make this an extraordinary read.

- how excellent is Suzanne Rouvier's way of referring to her illness as "my typhoid"?
- what is with the author-character's obsession with Isabel's "fat legs"?
- lots of typos in my Vintage Classics copy.
- on page 320, when Maugham tells Larry that "you're free, white and twenty-one.", isn't Larry in his thirties by then? ( )
  kitzyl | Feb 19, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (19 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
W. Somerset Maughamprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Kelk, C.J.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Maddigan, AngelaIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Martone, MariaTranslatorsecondary 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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:34 -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 6 descriptions

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