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SUPERBOOK : The Razor?s Edge

The Razor's Edge tells stories of many people, prominent among them is about Darrell, a 21-year-old pilot in World War I.

india Updated: Jan 21, 2006 17:16 IST

The Razor’s Edge
W. Somerset Maugham
Price — Rs. 345
Publication — Vintage Books

William Somerset Maugham is a writer whose life is as well-known as his literary output. Reading his books does nothing to dispel the notion that this man presents facts things that actually happened because his writing is grounded, to dissociate the word from its rather scary American import of leisure deprivation.

By grounded, I mean that there isn’t a lot of melodrama in his writings, and the matter-of-fact tone makes even stories like those of Larry Darrell sound credible, if not common. Published in 1944, The Razor's Edge tells stories of many people, prominent among them is about Darrell, a 21-year-old pilot in World War I.

After watching his friend die during the war, he comes back to find that the life he had been living earlier his girlfriend, his people and their ‘normal’ concerns holds no meaning for him.

He sets off on a ‘spiritual quest’, and those who haven’t read the book might snigger at this most predictable of fads.
It is anything but a fad. Maugham's portrayal of Larry, his girlfriend Isabel, her husband, her family, and various other common and uncommon characters, make the reading the beginning of the reader’s own quest. Not for the same kind of meaning, perhaps, but certainly for honesty.

The compelling complexity of its world protects the book from being slotted into any well-defined category. It isn’t a bildungsroman, a war novel or exactly modernist. It is, perhaps, best described as a verbal photograph of questions and impulses of people in a particular country, in a particular age.

However, it is a testament to the power of Maugham’s skill that a book so deeply embedded in its context WWI, and post-war America is still capable of touching the life of a 21st century reader, as vitally and fundamentally as it did then.

First Published: Jan 21, 2006 17:16 IST