I have met many people who, when discussing books that have been made into movies, have commented that they prefer to watch the movie first then read the book. According to them, this helps them to enjoy both. I thought this was somewhat silly, but considered it an opinionated thing and since I cannot recall a time in which I watched the movie and then read the book, I can’t honestly say for certain. Sometimes I will realize that a movie was based on a book I never read, but I usually don’t get around to reading it. The razor’s edge, however, is my exception.
Larry Darrel is a man in search of answers. Dealing with the after effects that WWII had on him, Larry leaves everything he knew behind in search of the absolute. W. Somerset Maugham is the narrator in this story, weaving the tale together as his life touches that of Larry and his acquaintances. A story of fate, the repercussions of our decisions, and the journey for happiness, Maugham’s masterful characters create a setting to provoke the questions we all have about life and what it’s really about.
The only bad thing I have to say is that I wish I had read the book before I watched the movie. The book is more important to me and the movie can add to the experience of the book, but by watching the movie first I caught things in the book that I remembered being different from the movie. Did this bother me? Not really, but it did make reading it a little more difficult. There are always small differences in a movie from the book that inspired it, but more obvious changes caught my attention and became a distraction in the beginning. For the most part the movie was a good adaptation and only had an impact when I first started reading the book.
This is a spiritual journey novel, but not in the way you might expect. We don’t follow Larry while he journeys around the world and learns the secrets of enlightenment. The author projects himself into the story as an active character and we learn about Larry’s adventure through his conversations with the narrator. However, this doesn’t happen in chronological order. And it’s for this reason, among others, that I believe this book to be so great. So if you think that the protagonist’s journey is the essence of the story, you will be a little misled. The real essence lies within the characters.
I am not the most well read individual in the world, though I am improving daily through these reading challenges and this blog. But I can say that Maugham’s characters in The Razor’s Edge are some of the best. They are portrayals of real people who receive realistic outcomes. Each character embodies a different manifestation of the pursuit for happiness and not all of them succeed.
(As a side note I want to say that trying to discuss the nature of the characters is incredibly difficult because by revealing even the most basic information about a character will give away parts of the book and potentially subtract from the experience of any who want to read it in the future.)
The real beauty of the characters, having already taken into account their realistic nature, is the way in which each of them has a foil. The foil serves as a backdrop for the other and enhances the reasons and the consequences for each character’s fate. Whether or not you believe in fate, Maugham provides philosophical evidence to get the reader asking, “If not fate, then what power does exist in the world to carve our path through life?”
This brings me to the last observation I want to explore from The Razor’s Edge. Fate is real for these characters; their paths are not marked out for them from birth, but by examining where each person came from it becomes clear what their final destination will be. Sometimes fate is something we make for ourselves, while at other times we are given little prods from others as to which path to take. Fate is just a mystical way of explaining the reality our decisions create and the future they determine. We can change tracks and, by so doing, choose a new future.
This book forced me to ask myself: What are you filling your life with? Do you fill it with the illusion of happiness? Do you think that money will buy happiness or that by getting everything that you want you can obtain blissful joy? While you read, I encourage you to consider the idea of what happiness is and what path you might be walking down at this very moment. By the time you get to the end see if you can come up with an answer. I haven’t yet found mine, but I’m a little closer than I was when I started.