Maugham writes an extremely interesting and thought provoking book, in this story about a young man who takes a drastic change. The book starts off in the early 20's, with World War I veteran Larry engaged to the beautiful Isabella. The future is ripe for him as he has the promise of a lucrative job.
However, Larry having had a life altering experience in the war (a friend saved his life by sacrificing himself), Larry decides that the materialistic way is not the one he wants to pursue. He'd rather loaf. Isabella wants a traditional, American way of life. They split up and Larry indulges himself in taking up various careers throughout Europe, studying with priests and Indian yogis, and reading and learning. Isabella, on the other hand, agrees to marry a wealthy young man. Their marriage is good, but not deep as she always has feelings for Larry.
Maugham writes in the first person and the reader is able to guess that this is a true story, but with the names changed. In some ways, the story is like a soap opera (Isabella tries to keep track of Larry's life and they run into each other periodically. There is also some scheming done when Isabella finds Larry engaged). There are other players in the book, and ultimately each gets what they want: spirituality, material possessions and security, social prominence, or death. The primary focus, though, is on Larry's spiritual growth and his relationship with Isabella. There is also a lengthy discussion into Hinduism versus Christianity.
There was also a well-done movie that does justice to the book. It runs on AMC. The ending differs only slightly and the book goes into a few places the movie doesn't, but both are comparable and worthwhile.