The Razor's Edge by W. Somerset Maugham
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
On my second attempt, I managed to finish this. And because I did, I am able to change my rating from 2 stars to 3. This pretentious tale of upper-class life between the great wars has a certain charm about it. But I don't feel it has aged well at all.
The single best word to describe the story is 'contrived'. The author places himself in the center of the story. As first-person narrator, he's the bit of glue that holds it all together. But this, of course, means that he must find a way to either be present at every turn or at least hear about those events secondhand. And so he either contrives a way to be present or to get the other characters to freely unburden themselves and then have perfect recollection of their uncharacteristic soliloquys.
And then he has the gall to rearrange the episodes, meetings and ruminations into the chronology he feels is best suited to telling the story, rather than allow it to unfold in any organic way. This is on top of the archaic way in which he, as narrator, is telling us, dear readers, how and why he is doing this. Sheesh.
Of course, everyone speaks in that unnatural vocabulary that only a scholarly British novelist would put into their mouths. Even the Americans speak like Cambridge dons, except when they are constantly using the unrecognizable contraction "d'you" (as in "d'you really think so?"). All the characters sounds essentially the same. Except for poor Gray, who is consigned to rarely speak and then only in cliché (which the author/narrator explicitly mentions near the end of the piece).
Perhaps this is the crux of the matter. If you want real American characters, acting and speaking like Americans, go to an American author like Twain or Faulkner or Fitzgerald. These are just chess pieces placed onto a board so that the author can have a dialog with himself about philosophy and religion.
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