A challenge, issued by Kevin Morris at Newauthoronline to write a post about our favorite book. (Please visit Kevin at his site; you will be glad you did!)
My choice is, The Razor’s Edge by W. Somerset Maugham published in 1944.
An unusual book in that the author narrates but also plays himself in the story and hints that the novel may have some truth to it. You can Google it and find a few websites dedicated to proving it factual.
The story begins at the end of WW1 and follows Larry Darrell who served as a fighter pilot and saw action over the skies of France. Larry befriends another pilot, a jovial Irishman who dies after saving his life. From here on Larry’s life changes as he searches for answers about death, God and what’s the purpose. He returns home to his fiancée Isabel and befuddles everyone as he turns down a job offer from his best friend Gray. He decides he wants to move to Paris and ‘loaf’ for a couple of years. Isabel loves him and will wait, but all the while thinking he will come to his senses.
Isabel’s Uncle Elliot Templeton is an expatriate living in Paris who made his money off of underhanded art deals. Elliot is a snob, but a lovable one who rubs elbows with the high society crowd. He and Maugham are friends and this is where the author gets to know Larry and Isabel.
Larry lives in Paris, a bohemian lifestyle filled with study and after two years does not find what he’s searching for and heads out to other parts of the continent where he works odd jobs and meets a cast of characters; one of which guides him into a more spiritual direction. He lives in a monastery in Germany for a while and gets a job on a ship and makes his way to Bombay in India and has a mystical experience.
Isabel after refusing Larry’s proposal that she should join him marries his best friend Gray who works in his father’s brokerage firm. They have kids and everything seems as it should but trouble is looming on the horizon; the stock market crashes; Gray and Isabel are now broke. Uncle Elliot somehow keeps his fortune mostly intact. Isabel, Gray, and the children move to Paris. Elliot might be a snob, but he will not let his niece live below her standards or should I say, his standards.
From here Larry shows up in Paris learns of Isabel and the kids living there. It becomes clear that Isabel is still in love with him. But she feels disheartened when Larry shows up thin, brown and glowing. It is plain to see that she has lost him not to another woman but to something bigger than she will never possibly understand. For the next few years, their lives intertwine as Larry returns periodically but never really telling anyone about his exploits. It is only until one night sitting at a café with Maugham that Larry tells him about his adventure and what he found. For me, the book represents a quest and two ways of going after it. One is the way of Elliott Templeton, to buy your way to everything and another is the adventure of letting each day take you bare-boned packing nothing but a search for answers which will give you more questions but this is the way of the pilgrim.
While reading parts of the book for this post, I figured something else out… Larry and Elliot experience something bigger than both of them in the end but by different roads. Larry finally after all his books and meditations achieves the highest goal, enlightenment, free from another life back on this physical plain. And Elliot, dying, none of his so-called friends give a damn, leaves most of his money to his niece but also a hefty portion to the Catholic Church and is baptized before he dies.
Now one may say that Larry clearly achieved the loftier goal but not so fast. Elliot’s belief is just as strong as he dreams of heaven and how it will be like the Paris of days gone by, when he was on top of his game.
It is all about faith. And when I feel down and lose some of my faith, I pick up this book again and again it lifts me up.