Reading Buddies BadgeWelcome, Reading Buddies! Today we’re discussing The Razor’s Edge by W. Somerset Maugham. Published in 1944, it was Maugham’s last major novel. It’s the first novel of his I can remember reading, though I know I read Of Human Bondage years back. Last year, though, I read a collection of Maugham’s short stories, called The Trembling of a Leaf, which I very much enjoyed.

Shortly after reading that collection of stories, I learned that one of my favorites had served as the basis for The Razor’s Edge, which made me eager to read the latter. I’m not too far into the novel yet — I just finished the third chapter of Part 2 — but so far the stories don’t quite line up. I am completely fine with this, and yet at the same time, I’m noticing how strongly my expectations formed from the short story color my reading of The Razor’s Edge. I keep wondering how we’re going to get from where we are to where the short story goes…and I don’t even think (or care if) the two tales end up in the same place at all! Has that ever happened to you?

The Razor's Edge by W. Somerset Maugham (cover)So far I find all the main characters endearing, each in his or her own way, which is rare for me. I often find I really like a couple of characters, feel lukewarm toward others, and maybe strongly dislike a few more. I suppose that may change as the story progresses. I also quite enjoy that Larry’s life goal at this point is to “loaf,” though I’m not sure at this point where it’s leading him. The story itself isn’t big and flashy, which so far has worked fine. In 65 pages, the story really hasn’t moved terribly quickly, and yet I’ve not found myself wishing it would pick up the pace at all.

One thing I particularly like about The Razor’s Edge so far is the awareness the author inserts of himself. I like when he tempers his supposed retelling by cautioning the reader that much of the scene has been constructed, based on remembered fact, with the author’s imagination. In an odd way, I find this faux memoir turning my mind toward real memoirs, causing me to consider just how much of such a story must be recreated from memories and imaginings. I tend to forget all that when I read a memoir. Kind of neat.

Finally, I like that Maugham (or his narrator) explicitly states he will not attempt to American-ify his characters. It must be difficult to write characters from cultures not your own, though I’ve honestly never really considered it. I love Maugham’s explanation:

“It is very difficult to know people and I don’t think one can ever really know any but one’s own countrymen. For men and women are not only themselves; they are also the region in which they were born, the city apartment or the farm in which they learnt to walk, the games they played as children, the old wives’ tales they overheard, the food they ate, the schools they attended, the sports they followed, the poets they read, and the God they believed in. It is all these things that have made them what they are, and these are the things that you can’t come to know by hearsay, you can only know them if you have lived them. You can only know them if you are them.” (p. 4, in my edition)

That’s all I’ve got so far. How’s The Razor’s Edge going for you? What are your impressions so far?

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  1. I’m glad you’re enjoying it so far. It’s not as famous as some of his others, but it felt far more personal to me. Supposed to be a novel but it’s much closer to memoir than that. Both this one and Of Human Bondage are that way, though I felt this one was the most personal. It’s been a good number of years, maybe a decade, since I read it, and I hope to revisit at some point.

  2. I also wonder things like that when I am reading memoirs. How can authors remember so much of their life story, and in particular, specific conversations and small details from the past? I just don’t have the ability to think or remember like that, and it puzzles me that some do. I haven’t heard much about this book, but I like what you have to say about it, especially the bit about loafing, as I am reading a classic novel right now with a loafer in it too!

  3. I have been reading it for a week and I’m just finishing chapter 2! It’s not that I don’t like the book, I like it very much and I think it’s easier to read than I thought it would be. I was first surprised by the “semi fiction” aspect of the narration, as the narrator states that he imagined the parts of the story he has not directly witnessed and was wondering where the story would go.

  4. I’m doing the audio on this one. I’m a little bit farther in than you are (I’m about to start Part 4). I’ve never read anything by Maugham before, so I had no idea what to expect, but I’m enjoying it so far.

  5. I’m enjoying this one so far. I really like Larry. At first I was taken back by his desire to “loaf,” but as the story moves along, it’s nice to see that it doesn’t mean being lazy as I had suspected. I really respect his desire to follow his own ideas rather than sacrifice who he is to fit into societal norms.

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