It has been a long time since I have read any fiction book. So, thought of reading one, on this weekend to take a break from stats, programming and the usual routine. It took me about 9 hours to read the entire book and I must say that there was not a single instance during those 9 hours that I felt like taking a break. So, the book has a smooth flow of prose with just enough characters that you don’t lose the story or get bored anywhere. The plot has about 15 characters , including one played by the author himself, Somerset Maugham but not all 15 characters get the same footage(obviously) .The protagonist of the story is Laurence Larry Darrell who goes on a spiritual quest and the book tries to weave a story around that quest. The other 13 characters come and go in with varying periodicity through out the book. Besides Larry, the main characters in the story are Isabel who loves Larry but ends up marrying Gray Maturin, Elliott Templeton, Isabel’s uncle whose sole purpose in life is to socialize and be at parties, Sophie MacDonald, a poetess turned whore turned dope addict, whom Larry almost ends up getting married, but thanks to a Isabel’s devious plan, never does so.

The story starts off with Larry being engaged to Isabel. After a stint in the army, Larry is a changed man. He wants to understand about God, Evil, role of knowledge in salvation and whole lot of things that any spiritually inclined person would seek. The difference though is that many of us, answer or seek answers to these questions, while keeping a day job, holding the responsibilities of a spouse, a parent etc. Not Larry. He has no intention to work and he tries to argue with Isabel, that in his meager income they can live a decent life. Despite Isabel deeply in love with Larry, she rejects him. I guess for some people, economic considerations weigh far more than matters of the heart, when it comes to settling down with somebody. Isabel gets married to a business magnet,Gray Maturin. Larry then goes on a quest that takes him to Germany, Spain and India. He finally gets some clarity after staying in India at an Ashram for a few years and meeting some spiritually inclined people in India.

The book does have a dose of aspects from Hinduism like karma, renunciation, rebirth, etc. But the author makes it clear that he never intends of summarizing or even talking at length about such aspects in his book. He is clear about his role, i.e a storyteller. I must say he has played his role as a character and as an author with perfection , as he make spiritual elements, the various locations , a dozen characters as props to show the conversion of an atheist Larry to a devout spiritual person by the end of the book. No wonder this book is rated as one of the finest works of Somerset Maugham. However the movie adaption met with a commercial failure.

Some quotes / conversation that I found interesting amongst the various characters in the novel are :

  • I have been reading Spinoza the last month or two. It fills me with exultation. It’s like landing from your plane on a great plateau in the mountains. Solitude, and an air so pure that it goes to your head like wine and you feel like million dollars

  • What are you do going to do with all this unnecessary knowledge which you call wisdom ? It I ever acquire wisdom I suppose I shall be wise enough to know what to do with it

  • I wish I could make you see how much fuller the life I offer you is than anything you have a conception of. I wish I could make you see how exciting the life of spirit is and how rich in experience. It’s illimitable. It’s such a happy life. There’s only one thing like it, when you are up in a plane by yourself, high, high and only infinity surrounds you.You are intoxicated by the boundless space. You feel such a sense of exhilaration that you wouldn’t exchange it for all the power and glory in the world.

  • Unfortunately sometimes one can’t do what one thinks is right without making someone else unhappy

  • What’s the good of knowledge if you are not going to do anything with it ? Perhaps it will be sufficient satisfaction merely to know, as it’s a sufficient satisfaction to an artist to product a work of art. And perhaps its only a step towards something further

  • Love isn’t a good sailor and it languishes on a sea voyage. You will be surprised when you have the Atlantic between you and Larry to find how slight the pang is that before you sailed seemed intolerable

  • Most people when they are in love invent every kind of reason to persuade themselves that its only sensible to do what they want. I suppose that’s why there are so many disastrous marriages

  • I had not the heart to laugh at Elliott any more, he seemed to me a profoundly pathetic object. Society was what he lived for, a party was the breath of his nostrils, not to be asked to one was an affront, to be alone was a mortification; and, an old man now, he was desperately afraid. It made me sad to think how silly, useless and trivial his life had been. It mattered very little now that he had gone to so many parties and had hobnobbed with all those princes, dukes, and counts. They have forgotten him already.

  • Art is triumphant when it can use convention as an instrument of its own purpose

  • Advaita doesn’t ask you to take anything on trust; it asks only that you should have a passionate craving to know Reality. It states that you can experience God as surely as you can experience joy or pain.

  • In later ages the sages of India in recognition of human infirmity admitted that salvation may be won by the way of love and the way of works, but they never denied that the noblest way, though the hardest, is the way of knowledge, for its instrument is the most precious faculty of man, his reason

  • We are all greater than we know and the wisdom is the means to freedom. For Salvation, it is not essential to retire from the world , but only renounce the self. Work done with no selfish interest purifies the mind and that duties are opportunities afforded to man to sink his separate self and become one with the universal self.