Trevor Jones's Reviews > The Razor's Edge

The Razor's Edge by W. Somerset Maugham
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Jun 09, 2008

really liked it

** spoiler alert ** Is it possible to love a story and yet dislike a book's "narrative" That's the question "The Razor's Edge" as an artifice poses to me.

Ok, well first the story: Larry Darrell is the World War I veteran who embarks on a life-long quest to find meaning after disillusionment with his peers back home and the universe-at-large on the battlefield. The discovery of Eastern mysticism may have been an entirely original thought to Maugham's readers, but today I subscribe to the idea that this book is primarily about discovering yourself as a "Seeker", an idea that has little to do with Eastern or Western thought necessarily. The people around him fall apart when the reality they've chosen for themselves crumbles, and Larry persists in his self-doubt, quiet spirituality and melancholic drifting (but never maudlin).

What I found, reading the book, is that Darrell's experience becomes once-removed from the reader with the narration of Elliot, a snob who observes more than he admits. The film (starring Bill Murray, who was laughed at for doing the role in the early '80s, but I think it stands up well today) reduced Elliot's perspective and it made for a better story-- if so much of this book becomes life-defining for so many people, how is the old snob's take on the whole ordeal really provided for?

Today, Darrell's story would be told in first person or third person omniscient, I imagine; it was Maugham's realism that needed to provide for a storyteller, and while it doesn't ruin the book or anything so severe as that, it renders Darrell's entire "journey" and psyche into a collection of rumors, memories and hearsay-- maybe this is the point. Such a figure that manages the escape from the material West and the ravages of war and so on might only be one everyone else can float around and comment on with half-formed opinion, but to directly address this figure and demand testimony might be asking too much. I'm glad Maugham had enough sense for that, because I wouldn't have.
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