The Razor’s Edge is dull today

Cover of The Razor's Edge by W. Somerset Maugham, a new novel.The narrator of The Razor’s Edge  says he never began a novel with more misgiving.

His apprehension is well-founded.

Invited to a luncheon by an American acquaintance, the narrator meets his niece Isobel and her boy friend. Larry had lied about his age to become a pilot in The Great War. Since the war ended, he’s done nothing.

Isobel’s family refuse let her marry Larry unless he stops loafing and starts working.

Isabel threatens to call off their engagement unless he gets a job.

Larry calls her bluff.

Isobel marries a financier instead.

Larry bums around Europe and India reading philosophy and contemplating infinity, a flower child 40 years ahead of his time.

Why won’t Larry work?

We’d say he had post-traumatic stress disorder. Larry says (much later to the narrator) – that he was grappling with how evil could exist if there is a good God. In this tale of rich Americans in European watering spots between the wars, a  discussion of the problem of good and evil is as bizarre as a singer in a tuxedo at the Woodstock Festival.

The book’s high point is W. Somerset Maugham’s oft-quoted line about American women expecting the perfection in their husbands that English women expect only in their butlers.

The Razor’s Edge: a novel
By W. Somerset Maugham
Doubleday, 1943
343 pages
1944 bestseller # 5
My Grade: B-

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni



Theatre Is a Class Act

Red Stage Curtain
Theatre: A Novel starts out as superficial as Entertainment Today but segues at the last minute to an analysis of the role of the arts in life. Incredibly, W. Somerset Maugham makes the thing work.

Acting is Julia Gosselyn’s career and her life. She studies people and events constantly to enrich her performances. Even as she engages in ordinary activities, she’s conscious of how she’s appearing to others.

Her husband, a poor actor but brilliant theater manager, adores her. He brings out her best on stage and bores her at home. She’s faithful to him, though people assume she’s had a lover for years.

At mid-life, Julia’s disciplined life turns topsy-turvy when she falls for a man only a few years older than her son. That son triggers Julia’s examination of her life.

Julia finds her work matters. As for sex, well, it can be fun, but it’s not nearly as enchanting as a steak with onions and fries.

Maugham ties things together so adroitly that the novel’s ending seems inevitable. He makes you understand that art must reveal life without being life.

Theatre is easy reading, the sex is all off-stage, and readers end up understanding a bit about why theater matters.

What’s not to like?

Theatre: A Novel
By W. Somerset Maugham
Literary Guild, 1937
292 pages
1937 bestseller #7
My Grade: B

Photo credit: Stage Curtain (Red) by Dominik Gwarek

©2007 Linda Gorton Aragoni