Reading Buddies Wrap-Up: “The Razor’s Edge” by W. Somerset Maugham

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Welcome, Reading Buddies! First, a reminder: be sure to vote for April’s book in the poll in the sidebar!

Well! How did you like The Razor’s Edge? When I posted two weeks ago, I’d hardly read enough of the novel to have much of an opinion. I just finished the book yesterday and very much enjoyed it.

I think one of the things I liked best about The Razor’s Edge was how none of the characters was explicitly good or evil and how each of them seemed to represent a particular worldview or way of life without being reduced to stock characters or mere mouthpieces for Maugham’s ideas. They played well against each other without any of them seeming false or underdeveloped, I thought.

The Razor's Edge by W. Somerset Maugham (cover)

I also enjoyed the more philosophical aspects to the novel, mostly introduced by Larry but responded to by the others. I found their conversations and commentaries fascinating and thought Maugham did an admirable job working these sections into his novel without letting them feel disconnected from the narrative.

I’ve spent some time considering whether or not I had a favorite character. I don’t think I actually did. I somehow liked the narrator, even though he revealed next to nothing about himself. There was something endearing about Elliott, even as he snubbed those he felt unworthy. Passionate Isabel and good-natured Gray played their roles admirably. And then, of course, there was Larry. Of all the characters, I think I respected him most. It’s not that he was the only character who went after his dreams — it was just that his dreams required him to take the biggest step away from the norm, I felt. He did what he felt he had to do, regardless of society’s expectations and the reactions of his friends. What began as “loafing” became something much more, and in the end, I do think he found his path.

Speaking of the end, Maugham closes the novel thusly:

“…to my intense surprise it dawned upon me that without in the least intending to I had written nothing ore or less than a success story. For all the persons with whom I have been concerned got what they wanted: Elliott social eminence; Isabel an assured position backed by a substantial fortune in an active and cultured community; Gray a steady and lucrative job, with an office to go to from nine till six every day; Suzanne Rouvier security; Sophie death; and Larry happiness. And however superciliously the highbrows carp, we the public in our heart of hearts all like a success story; so perhaps my ending is not so unsatisfactory after all.” (p. 314)

Do you agree that the characters got what they wanted? I’m not so sure about Sophie, but as for the rest, I’d say they did. Even though some of them — I’m thinking of Isabel here — thought they wanted something else, or something additional, I do think each managed to fulfill his or her top priority. I do think it’s interesting that Larry is the only one Maugham says got happiness; is he implying none of the other characters attained it? Do you agree that “we the public” love a success story? And finally, the author doesn’t mention himself in that list. What did he want, and did he get it?

The verdict? I’ll be reading more of Maugham. Thanks to you for choosing The Razor’s Edge for February’s Reading Buddies book, and for reading it with me! If you posted about this month’s read on your own blog, please leave a link to your post in the comments.

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  1. I like it when characters aren’t specifically good or evil, and they exist as multifaceted and complex beings that move through the plot imbuing it with substance, so I can imagine that I would really enjoy this book. I am so glad that you had such a good reaction to this book, and I must say that your reviews and reading choices always make me marvel and wish that I was reading more serious literature. Fantastic review today. I enjoyed it!

  2. Honestly, I’m not sure I remember any specific characters – it’s been way too long since I read this! I just remember the general feeling that everyone was drawn so realisitically, without any melodrama.

  3. I’m really glad I read this one. I think Larry was my favorite. I respect the fact that he chose his own path and didn’t care what other’s thought.

    I do think that they all got what they wanted, but I don’t think what they wanted necessarily turned out how they expected it to. Specifically Isabel. She wanted status and financial comfort, but I don’t think it brought her happiness. It bothered me what she did to Sophie. So sad. She couldn’t get past her jealousy at someone marrying Larry that wasn’t her. It had such disastrous consequences.

  4. Ooh I am so glad you liked The Razor’s Edge, it’s one of my favourite books. I don’t think I had a favourite character in the book but I think Larry is just so inspiring. Maugham is an incredible storyteller and I always feel that his characters seem very much like real people. His collections of short stories set in the south pacific are also very enjoyable reads.

  5. I was so hoping to join you for this one – I loved this book in high school, despite its required reading status. The elements you point out are what I remember enjoying about the novel. I wanted to tackle it as an adult (and of course, I still can) to see if it held the same sway. I still need to read more of Maugham, amazingly I have never gotten around to it.

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