The Razor’s Edge by W. Somerset Maugham

There’s something about Maugham’s writing that traps me. After picking up one of his books I find myself tucked into the corner of a cafe, curled up in bed at 3am or sitting on the back seat of the bus, obsessively reading until I’m done. Because of this I’ve never had the chance to savour his writing, each ending leaving me blinking and reeling as I come back into the world.

This was my second time reading The Razor’s Edge, I picked it up again in part because I was curious to see how my view of it has changed after having spent a year in a yoga community in Asia. To my surprise, I discovered that the second time around Larry’s spiritual quest seemed both less conspicuous and less interesting.

Before writing this I browsed some of the other reviews here (probably a mistake), as always there are common themes. Maugham’s bisexuality and misogyny, people who found Larry’s character boring and people who found the other characters facile and worthless, people found the story shallow and distasteful and people who found the spiritual journey clichéd and pretentious. To me these are all beside the point. More than anything I’m fascinated by his depictions of humanity. I adore that his characters are morally ambiguous, he points out their failings with relish and tends to their strengths with care, but he never passes judgement on the characters themselves. Sensibly he leaves that task to the reader.

Larry’s character is one who I look to with both admiration and a trepidation. In many ways he lives the life I wish I’d had the courage to, and in others his passivity leaves me deeply uncomfortable and anxious.

I love this book. It left me changed, perhaps hungry, the first time I read it. The second time through it leaves me with more questions than I had the first time through. I can’t think of higher praise.

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