Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Razor's Edge

It's a rare pleasure to read a book that's been recommended to you years ago, and to find that it's lived up to its praise.

That's what's happened to me recently with W. Somerset Maugham's The Razor Edge, a novel that I've been meaning to read for - perhaps I'd better not admit this - almost a decade.

I must say, I really enjoyed this book. I found the story captivating, Maugham's style refreshing, and the novel's narration compelling. True, there are faults here (including an extended meditation toward the end of the novel on Hinduism and Buddhism), but they are outweighed by Maugham's subtle pursuit of two themes: first, the idea of success and how it is best defined; and second, the idea of patience, of emotional deferment.

For me, the second theme was most satisfying, and it's clear that Maugham's narrator plays a vital role in our understanding (which evolves over the course of the novel) of what goals are worthy of patient pursuit and which are temporary, ephemeral.

As I suggest, The Razor's Edge is not without its faults (nor its moments that Maugham's readers must suspend their disbelief in terms of narrative omniscience), but in the end, I found this book worthy of the praise its garnered over the years, and feel, as a stylist, that Maugham should be up there on our list of twentieth-century greats.


  1. I have heard it was the most popular novel with GIs in WWII. I have often thought it contributed to the rise of the Beat Generation. In some ways, Larry Darrell was the first hippie.

  2. I was lucky enough to read Maugham's collected short stories as a teenager. A great writer. I haven't read this yet though. I hope it get round to it in less time than you did when you were recommended it.

  3. I liked this book very much indeed. It was innovative in its time.

  4. Thanks for the comments, Maxine and Dog.

    Frank, a propos of Larry Darrell: I actually wondered whether his name is a play on Lawrence Durrell. Is there any traction there?

    (Please say yes!)