The imagery of clouds is essential to The Razor's Edge: the novel's protagonist, Larry Durrell, experiences freedom, a longing for the divine and a distance from the shackles of society as he flies the European skies during the first world war.
He returns home a young man forever changed, his life course permanently altered.
As he rests from the war and "loafs around" with an expectant audience of friends and fiancee, (all waiting for him to begin a lucrative career as a stockbroker) he gives the story a clue to the direction he's taking, and the experience that brought upon his own personal fork in the road:
"I've been reading Spinoza...I don't suppose I understand much of it yet, but it fills me with exultation. It's like landing from your plane on a great plateau in the mountains. Solitude, and an air so pure that it goes to your head like wine and you feel like a million dollars." (Page 68)
This is definitely the story of a spiritual quest, but how is it also such a fantastic good read?
We are able to invest ourselves in the story solely due to my favourite character (and of course it could be debated whether he is a character at all, though I believe he is in fact the main character): the narrator. The Razor's Edge is unique as a novel in that it is narrated as a story by the writer himself, and his writers voice is so compelling that it is almost as if we are being spoken to by a dear friend who happens to be both intelligent and highly observant:
"I have never begun a novel with more misgiving. If I call it a novel it is only because I don't know what else to call it. I have little story to tell and I end neither with a death nor a marriage. Death ends all things and so is the comprehensive conclusion of a story, but marriage finishes it very properly too and the sophisticated are ill-advised to sneer at what is by convention termed a happy ending."
Maugham's distinct voice is clearly one that is socially aware, slightly cynical, sometimes surprised and definitely not sprung from a spiritual journey, yet he mines Larry's story and psyche in order to explore the concept.
One character I've been mulling over: Isabel. Are we to sympathize with her or is she in fact tainted by a bit of evil in her character? Would Sophie have survived, would Larry have loved her, without Isabel's intervention? Or was Sophie a doomed character who would only be happy in death? Was Isabel merely bringing on the inevitable?
Is Elliot's connection to his church and God any less valid than Larry's?
How about the explanation he has come to for the existence of evil in the world? (page 279)
I hope you enjoyed the book as much as I did. I don't recommend watching the 1984 film version, I found it truly terrible to the point that it has almost ruined some of the wonderful feelings I have taken from the novel, my awe at the complexities of the characters and the narrator's exquisite voice. The liberties it took with the plot ended up making the story nearly meaningless in parts. If you haven't watched it please don't!
Please come in and comment as many times as you like. I am posting this a day earlier than usual so that those of us with weekend plans can get in and comment ahead of time... I myself will be gone until tomorrow morning but I look forward to checking in on comments and responding at that time.
Thanks to all of you for participating in the Mop Philosophy Book Club. You guys are the best.