“The Razor’s Edge” really has a simple message. It asks us to reflect on how we lead our lives. Do we follow the masses or seek inner fulfillment? Is it right or wrong to drop out of society and follow our inner selves? Author W. Somerset Maugham makes the reader ponder these questions as he introduces his characters. The story is told by Maugham himself who plays a substantial role as the narrator of the story, interweaving all of the characters together. We are introduced foremost to Elliot Templeton, the debonair and snobbish American- a man, although excruciatingly vain, pompous and obsequious, has enough charm to make one overlook most of his other faults. For an insufferable snob that he was, he did have quite a kind heart; an attribute which is evinced several times in the novel. His niece, Isabel Bradley is a young girl (at the opening of the novel) of twenty; a pretty, vivacious thing with a penchant for the joys of life who while not particularly greedy for money, does believe that money and joy are inextricably linked in her world. At the start of the book, she is engaged to a young man named Larry, although she is terribly concerned about him. Although he used to be a “nice, normal boy”, his experiences as a soldier in the war changed him deeply. Upon coming back home, although he remains the same to all outward appearances, there is a deep feeling of restlessness within him, a yearning for peace, for salvation. He does not seem interested in finding a job and is content to “just loaf around.” However, his unconventional ambitions take a toll on his relationship with Isabel, and eventually they break off their engagement.
A decade rolls by, and Isabel eventually marries a childhood friend Gary, the son of an influential banker. When Larry, Isabel and Gary do meet again, it is in the background of the Great Depression, which finds an utterly ruined Gary installed in one of Elliot’s apartments in Paris with Isabel their two daughters. While Gary, having long since lost his youth; looks almost haggard, and is afflicted with crippling headaches- a repercussion of the incredible stress of his bankruptcy, and the ensuing death of his beloved father; Larry, in stark contrast, looks as young as he did ten years ago, full of quiet energy and confidence. The progress of his spiritual odyssey serves as a foil to the other characters in the book- Isabel whose choice between love and wealth have lifelong repercussions, and Elliott Templeton a classic expatriate American snob who realizes too late that he spent his life chasing things that didn’t matter. The book is hard to explain, because on the surface, very little happens. However, the book is an engrossing and thought-provoking work that examines greed, philosophy, social commentary and regret.