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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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4,522791,071 (4.1)227
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, Vol. 2 by W. Somerset Maugham (John_Vaughan)

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» See also 227 mentions

English (72)  Italian (3)  French (1)  Hebrew (1)  Dutch (1)  Swedish (1)  All (79)
Showing 1-5 of 72 (next | show all)
Genuinely enjoyed The Razor’s Edge, though I’m having trouble articulating why. Seriously, I’m not even sure what compelled me to pick this up, as I normally avoid books about “the meaning of life” like Russian athletes avoiding a drug test. I suppose the truth is that I’d never read anything by Maugham and I got to wondering what, if anything, I might be missing. Am glad I did.

Admit I’m still on the fence about Maugham’s decision to narrate the story through the eyes of an unbiased spectator – the author himself, thinly disguised as an independent “man of the world” who just happens to be acquainted with the principle parties and present at a handful of key events. The effect is to create a sort of chasm of disinterest between the characters and the readers that, for me, required an effort to breach. Yet I’m glad I stuck it out, because these characters turn out to be worth getting to know.

The plot (such as it is) revolves around a young, likable American lad, Larry Darrell, who returns from WWI a changed man. Not necessary traumatized, but definitely determined to reconsider his priorities. Toward this end, he shrugs off his Plan A – a safe, highly lucrative job at a stockbrokers office plus marriage to a charming, wealthy girl who genuinely loves him – and wanders off in search of an answer to the question “what makes life meaningful?”, a quest that whisks him from Parisian reading rooms to Welsh coal mines, from German monasteries to Indian temples, before finally landing back upon the vast, anonymous plains of America.

Meanwhile, however, he’s left in his wake a whole cast of characters who lack either the will or courage to liberate themselves from the shallow lives they have chosen for themselves. There’s Elliott Templeton, the arch-socialite, seeking fulfillment through the superficial pageantry of society and religion. Isabel Bradley, Larry’s ex-fiancé, pursuing fullfilment through a marriage that seems to guarantee social and economic security. And poor Sophie, a childhood friend, who (upon the death of her beloved husband) dedicates herself to deliberate, gleeful self-destruction.

While Larry eventually does achieve enlightenment, even becoming a saint of sorts (he gains the ability to cure people, maybe even save them), Maugham’s other characters are left to live out the rest of their flawed lives without redemption. Each is given an opportunity to repent of their shallow ways (Elliott is briefly permitted to see how little his life of toadying has actually won him in terms of regard; Isabel is afforded the opportunity to leave Gray and follow her heart instead of a checkbook; Sophie is given the chance to escape her path towards self-destruction by marrying Larry), but none of them avail themselves of the opportunities.

And so I am left, again, to wonder what it was that kept me reading on. Perhaps Maugham’s gift for creating appealingly likable characters whose flaws are as organic as their virtues? Perhaps the grace Maugham demonstrates in allowing these characters to retain their dignity, resisting the urge to turn them into pathetic grotesques? (In this way, the novel reminds me a little of The Great Gatsby.) Perhaps the fun of jet-setting around 1930s Europe at the author’s side, visiting along the way many of Europe’s most glamourous destinations? Perhaps the way Maugham manages to discuss enormous, important themes like love, sacrifice, religion, and life without waxing pedantic? Perhaps because the book provided an intriguing new lens through which to reflect upon some of my own actions and choices? Perhaps a combination of all of the above?

I don’t imagine this is everyone’s cup of tea, and I totally understand that. But for those readers out there who appreciate refreshingly good writing and aren’t daunted by important themes, I strongly recommend The Razor’s Edge as well worth the time it takes to read … and then all the time you’ll spend afterwards, thinking about it. ( )
2 vote Dorritt | Feb 18, 2017 |
A wonderful novel about one man's attempt to escape the spiritual constraints of materialism. I read this partly during a short stay in the hospital, the circumstances and book combining to make me think seriously about what kinds of things I value in life. ( )
1 vote jalbacutler | Jan 10, 2017 |
Read one book this summer 2015
  jothebookgirl | Jan 3, 2017 |
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. ( )
1 vote 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. ( )
1 vote rosiezbanks | May 23, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 72 (next | show all)
" The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over; thus the wise say the path to Salvation is hard." Excellent book with a character reminiscent of Gatsby-he's equal in shallowness, and features another character desparately trying to find himself. Unique format-one of the characters is the author and the narrator.

» Add other authors (19 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
W. Somerset Maughamprimary authorall editionscalculated
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

Legacy Library: W. Somerset Maugham

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