Friday, November 06, 2009

The sharp edge of a razor

A novelist must preserve a child-like belief in the importance of things which common-sense considers of no great consequence. He must never entirely grow up.

— W Somerset Maugham

I'm so glad to see a resurgence of interest in Maugham of late. People tend to think of him as a B-list writer; he was too popular in his day to be considered seriously. Graham Greene's narrator in The End of the Affair assesses his own literary worth to be a notch above Maugham's (with EM Forster sitting a level higher).

I first read Maugham the summer I was 15. I was staying with my sister in Ottawa for a time, and The Razor's Edge was making the rounds through her circle of friends. The world clearly consisted of these character types. "He's such an Elliott," they might say.

Of course, I fell in love with Larry. I wanted to be him. Twenty plus years on, I've become adept at recognizing the inner Larry in a healthy proportion of everyone I encounter.

Because of this book, I have an unreasonable fondness for Newhart and Żubrówka. More than anything, I believe this book was my gateway to becoming a reader who knows how to read.

(But I'm still looking for salvation.)

I went on to read everything of Maugham's I could get my hands on, and for the ensuing decade it was something of an obsessive quest. It's been years since I read one of these books, but I won't part with my stash — a couple dozen well-worn paperbacks.

The Skeptical Romancer (Everyman's Library), a collection of Maugham's travel writing, with an introduction by Pico Iyer, is now on my wishlist.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Landed here from Steph and Tony's blog. Something about the blog name reeled me in :)

I loved your review of "The end of the affair", and I am beyond thrilled to read a blog post about Somerset Maugham.

I have read all his short stories, and according to me, he was a master in this genre.