When you speak to bibliophiles, they will almost always mention Somerset Maughm as one of their favorite writers. In the 1930's, he was one of the most widely read writers. He traveled extensively and was popular for both his travel writing and his fiction.
Maughm has yet to become a mainstream heavyweight in the way Hemmingway, Tolstoy and Austen have. However, he still remains a well read writer, and I have read almost all his books. He writes in an accessible way, and I always feel as if an old friend is telling me a fascinating story from long ago.
Yes, that is a real movie poster from October of 1984. Bill Murray was so enamored with the book that he refused to sign onto Ghostbusters until they agreed to make this movie. The movie wasn't well received and went away quietly.
The book, however, remains popular (mostly through word of mouth). I read it when I was 20 and re-read it again 17 years later. I was at first apprehensive, distrusting of my twenty-year-old self to know a good book. But as I read it I was thrust back into the story, captivated by the characters, and remembered why it had made such an indelible impact on me.
The story follows various characters, all told from the perspective of Somerset Maughm himself. Although written as a novel, Maughm was clear that everyone in it was based on a real person. He wanted to protect their identities, as it shows some very real and very dark sides of humanity, and so he fictionalized all the people in it - except himself.
The catalyst for the story is Larry Daryll, but don't expect to get to know Larry too well. He often disappears for years at a time, constantly in search of "truth". Larry had been a World War 1 pilot. When he came back from the war he came back a different man.
What exactly he saw that affected him so deeply no one really knows. He will only tell small bits of what he experienced. What he will say though, is that what happened made him question the meaning of life. He decides he's going to "loaf" and live on the small bit of money he inherited.
To his friends and family, he's lost his mind. All he does is read and sit around thinking. To Larry, everyone else is crazy, because they're all pretending this whole existence thing makes sense.
As Larry weaves in and out of the story the other characters continue on with their lives. Eventually, the stock market crashes, which is detrimental to some of Larry's close friends. At the same time, Larry mysteriously reappears in France, having been loafing in the far East for years.
Using some powerful mind techniques he learned while in India, Larry helps his friend to deal with his crippling anxiety over the crash. Later on, Larry tells Maughm the true extent of what he experienced in India. Larry, the man who simply loafed, experienced the transcendent state of nirvana. This part of the story was so profound that, when I was 20, I reread it dozens of times afterwards.
There was something about Larry's words that felt so real, so exquisite, that I had to know more. In a way, Larry was the catalyst for my own spiritual journey. Having finished the book again, I have to say, Larry has once more stirred something in my soul.
All of this probably sounds like Maughm was into some weird, mystical stuff for his time. In truth, this book was completely out of character for him. None of his others are like it. It makes the book that much more interesting to read, as Maugh is not just "drinking the kool-aid". He's a pretty big skeptic, but what he heard from Larry moved him enough to write this book.
This one is a little on the longer side, but there's a lot that will make the story fly by. Along with the mystery of Larry, there's a love triangle, social climbing, drug addiction, and the backdrop of a changing America. Hands down one of my all time favorite books and one that was essential to my spiritual awakening.
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