The Razor’s Edge by W. Somerset Maugham
Published in 1944, The Razor’s Edge follows the life and travels of Larry Darrel who rejects the beaten path of his time to follow his own quest for meaning. He foregoes the life of career, marriage, and social standing to read 8 hours a day, travel to numerous countries, take odd jobs to make ends meet, all to further his knowledge and understanding of himself. The story spans nearly a half-decade beginning post World War I and continues through the devastation caused by the 1929 stock market crash, which ruined several other characters in the book who chose the “respectable” path. The story jumps continents and time and is told as a true account of W. Somerset Maugham’s friends and acquaintances.
To be candid, I am half-way through but find it interestingly parallel to the journey I’ve embarked on. Choosing the less beaten path for meaning and purpose is a quest man has engaged in for as long as stories have been told.
An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness authored by Kay Redfield Jamison, is an engaging account of a psychiatrist’s own battle with the very illness she devoted most of her academic studies to. Dr. Jamison paints frightening images of the heights and depths that the mental illness took on her, on her patients, and even colleagues. To an extent, her depressive episodes are familiar, but I am largely unable to relate to the manic highs – feverishly impulsive spending, delusions, rapid and nonsensical thoughts – scary stuff. What I found most intriguing was her description of how others reacted, how she was afraid they would react, and the comfort she almost always found when finally, albeit reluctantly, revealing her illness to friend or family.
It’s also interesting to me that she was drawn to psychiatry, to studying the disease she did not know she had, at an early age. It seems that many of us possess a dormant, innate knowledge of ourselves that whispers hints all along, often which we choose to ignore. Whatever lives inside, no matter how weird or painful or foreign it feels, creates that dangerous, “knotted energy” when hidden, but is relieved as we learn healthy coping methods.