The Razor’s Edge

Gorgeous book whose existence had escaped me until recently. First sentence gold, “I have never begun a novel with more misgiving.” Told from a writer’s perspective, freely embellishing the tale told him from other participants. Dipping a gold-plated toe into the waters of the Ganges, vacillating from the wealthy, royalty-stocked society circles to seedy Parisian clubs with painted ladies, stretching out on monk cells in India. The title comes from the Upanishads: “The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over; thus the wise say the path to Salvation is hard.”
The narrator is a British writer, friends with Elliott Templeton, an American gentleman transposed onto Parisian society. The story revolves around Elliott, his niece Isabel, her engaged beau Larry, and her eventual husband Gray. Larry returns from WWI with the intent to “loaf” which disturbs Isabel to no end, the proper place of an American man in a job to work and keep her to circumstances she’s used to. He determines to live in Paris for a few years, loafing, which equates to reading ten hours a day and attending lectures at the Sorbonne, learning Greek and Latin. At the end of the two years, Isabel arrives and demands to know if he is returning to the US, which of course he is not, since he’s only just begun his journey for knowledge. Isabel marries Gray instead, has a lively and rich decade before the stock market crash wipes them out. They return to Paris, to live in uncle Elliott’s apartment while Gray gets his legs back under him. Larry floats in and out of the picture.
Best parts were Larry’s quest for knowledge, something I can relate to, the need to absorb and understand the world beyond its everyday. “The dead look quite dead when they’re dead.”