I like Maugham for his elegant writing style and his understanding of human nature. I believe he is one of those people who can judge someone in the first glance and they are almost always right. When I came across the book ‘The Razor’s Edge’ and realized it had a spiritual element in it, I was curious to know what Maugham’s take on spirituality was.
The book is biographical, all the characters actually existed, with a few names changed. Maugham is the narrator and appears as a character in the book. He follows the life of Larry Darrell, who due to an unfortunate incident in the wartime, turns spiritual. He starts asking questions about the purpose of life and its creation and so on. The author meets this man on and off over the span of several years and the reader gets to know the happenings in Larry’s life as well as the author’s.
Larry grows disinterested towards the earthly life and its belongings. He decides not to settle down, but to wander around and look for answers for his questions. He visits different countries and meets various people and gains knowledge, as he puts it. We see a gradual change in Larry as the story progresses. By the end of the book, Larry is a man who has found answers, to the best of his satisfaction and a man who knows what he wants in life.
We see characters like Elliot Templeton and Isabel who are starkly in contrast with Larry. The former has made society his main aim of life and the latter, money. In certain incidents, the co-existence of these characters along with Larry, highlight Larry’s thoughts and opinions which would not have been possible if the two characters were not present.
It is hard to believe that the book is biographical when one looks at Gray’s character. Too good to be true. One wonders if the author invented this character! Sophie’s character is certainly believable, but Larry’s behaviour towards her is not. This was the only thing that didn’t fit in with Larry’s image in my mind.
The reason I picked up this book was to know Maugham’s thoughts on spirituality. Keeping this element aside, the book is certainly enjoyable as any other fiction novel. Maugham’s writing is as enjoyable as ever and the ending is just right. The concluding paragraph says it all. If your reason for reading this book is the same as mine, then the conversation on spirituality appears only much later in the book. Part Six, to be precise and it covers a few tens of pages. And this particular chapter begins like this:
I feel it right to warn the reader that he can very well skip this chapter without losing the thread of such story as I have to tell, since for the most part it is nothing more than the account of a conversation that I had with Larry. I should add, however, that except for this conversation I should perhaps not have thought it worth while to write this book.
Only Maugham can write such beautiful words. He informs the reader that he can skip this chapter but also makes a point that if the reader does skip it, then there is not much point in reading the book.
I found reading the book worth while. For me, the essence of the book lies in those few pages mentioned earlier, which I would certainly go back to it if I feel like it and I am sure I will.