Years ago (gosh, maybe four or five by now), my friend Richard gave me a copy of “The Razor’s Edge” to read. My copy looks exactly like this picture, in fact. Richard gave me the book to read because it would help me to understand who he (Richard) is. Rich is an ER doctor. This line of work allows him lots of time for travel. He is one of the only people I know who has to get more pages stuck in his passport long before it’s set to expire. The last time he went in for more pages they made him get a new one because his was so worn and so crammed with stamps, stickers, and visas. What was I to learn of my friend in reading this book?
I started to read the book I don’t know how many times but never got further than a chapter into it. It didn’t capture me back then.
While recently going through a couple of boxes I’d brought from California but hadn’t unpacked yet, I came across the book again. I started to read it again, for about the twentieth time. Only this time it captured me.
The title comes from a quote taken from a book called Katha Upanishad:
“The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over;
thus the wise say the path to Salvation is hard.”
– Swami Krishnananda
But THIS is my favorite part of the book:
“I feel it right to warn the reader that he can very well skip this chapter without losing the thread of such story as I have to tell, since for the most part it is nothing more than the account of a conversation that I had with Larry. I should add, however, that except for the conversation I should not have thought it worth while to write this book.”
Talk about your caveat emptors! I wonder why indeed he wrote such a sentence! Was it to push us away and draw us in at the same time?? Here I had read 242 pages so far, and I reach the part that 1) the writer thinks would be okay if I skip, and yet, 2) promises that within the chapter lies the reason for the book to have been written in the first place! So curious!
By then, with 70 odd pages to go, I had clearly identified Larry to Rich. Larry and Rich both are on a spiritual quest. But I already knew that about Rich. What I didn’t know was that Rich knew he was on a spiritual quest. I haven’t seen or talked to him (Rich) since I moved away from California. I imagine he’s still roaming the earth looking for the answers to the questions of life. Perhaps I’ll look him up when I’m out there next week and ask him how his search is going. That is, if he’s not in Thailand, or climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, or diving a reef off of New Guinea.
He’ll be glad to know that I’ve finally finished the book.
“Somehow or other I did them good. I found I was able to relieve people not only of pain but of fear. It’s strange how many people suffer from it. I don’t mean fear of closed spaces and fear of heights, but fear of death and, what’s worse, fear of life. Often they’re people who seem in the best of health, prosperous, without any worry, and yet they’re tortured by it.”
I liked the book. I’d never read W. Somerset Maugham before. I like his style of writing, at least in this novel. Very familiar, very fluid. I liked his vocabulary, both the English and the French (that he liberally sprinkled throughout). It’s not often (spoiler alert of a sort) that everyone in the end of a story gets what they wanted and yet have the story not seem overly contrived or end how I’d consider happily. This is a well-told story.
I see that Bill Murray starred in a version of this movie. I think I’ll be renting it. I would love to see his interpretation of the character, Larry.