Last time I tried to review a book by W. Somerset Maugham, I stared at my computer for hours and erased every sentence I wrote. This time around is no different. What am I supposed to say? “‘The Razor’s Edge’ is about people, and they do things, and they have conversations, and life events happen, and it’s amazing to read about because you feel like you know them and you feel like you are them”? That sounds stupid, right? It sounds stupid to say that I know why Larry reads all the time and I know exactly what prompted Isabel to be such a manipulative bitch and I know why Sophie is a drunk. But that’s the thing about Maugham’s stories: His characters are you.
Archive for w. somerset maugham
Any book with a title that starts with the word “of” intimidates me. I look at the cover and sigh, preparing myself for a pedantic treatise on whatever nouns are following that foreboding “of.” All the kinky sex jokes in the world could not have made me feel better about what I was getting myself into with W. Somerset Maugham’s ‘Of Human Bondage.’
Fortunately, W. Somerset Maugham is not Thomas Hardy. In fact, W. Somerset Maugham is freaking awesome, and no, I will not stop calling him by his name as printed on the book because he is my new freaking hero. He wrote a book about life and love without a trace of sentimentality. Life lessons abound in ‘Of Human Bondage,’ but they’re expressed simply and unaffectedly. Hell, his editors told Maugham (I was kidding about the name thing) his book was too long, and he basically said, “Okie-dokie!” and cut it down. Maybe you think his acquiescence was negative; I think an author that doesn’t act like his work transcends the universe has a healthy and admirable humility to him.
This isn’t to say that ‘Of Human Bondage’ doesn’t transcend the universe, because in my opinion (which also transcends the universe), it does. The story follows Philip as he…lives. That’s what happens. A guy makes choices, and things happen and consequences ensue and he deals with it. There are no obscure metaphors; the author puts on no pseudo-intellectual airs. Philip goes through a religious phase, an artist phase, and a doctor phase, not to mention a few different ladies, believing each to be the love of his life. In the end, he gives everyone the finger and does exactly what he wants.
During each stage of his life, Philip learns something profound, and instead of listing them I’m just going to fixate on one. The book’s recurring theme is that a person can’t take cues from everyone else and try to live up to their standards and, given the end of the book, this theme is especially applicable to romantic relationships. Philip goes through several tumultuous flings with one gal in particular, Mildred, and he’s too inebriated by emotion to see that she’s actually a demanding bitch. Eventually he breaks it off with her and mellows out and stops falling in love with everyone he sees. When he realizes what he wants, it isn’t fancy— he wants to settle down with his friend Sally and have a family. Sure, the happy ending is a little tired, but the message behind it isn’t: Friendship is more important than butterflies in your stomach and it lasts a hell of a lot longer.
Don’t be scared off by the fact that I spent an entire paragraph talking about relationships. There’s much more to the book than that. Just go read it. And then tell me what you got out of it.