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The Good Soldier is a novel by English novelist Ford Madox Ford. It is set just before World War I and chronicles the tragedy of Edward Ashburnham, the soldier to whom the title refers, and his own seemingly perfect marriage and that of two American friends. The novel is told using a series of flashbacks in non-chronological order, a literary technique that formed part of The Good Soldier is a novel by English novelist Ford Madox Ford. It is set just before World War I and chronicles the tragedy of Edward Ashburnham, the soldier to whom the title refers, and his own seemingly perfect marriage and that of two American friends. The novel is told using a series of flashbacks in non-chronological order, a literary technique that formed part of Ford's pioneering use of literary impressionism. In 1998, the Modern Library ranked The Good Soldier 30th on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.


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The Good Soldier is a novel by English novelist Ford Madox Ford. It is set just before World War I and chronicles the tragedy of Edward Ashburnham, the soldier to whom the title refers, and his own seemingly perfect marriage and that of two American friends. The novel is told using a series of flashbacks in non-chronological order, a literary technique that formed part of The Good Soldier is a novel by English novelist Ford Madox Ford. It is set just before World War I and chronicles the tragedy of Edward Ashburnham, the soldier to whom the title refers, and his own seemingly perfect marriage and that of two American friends. The novel is told using a series of flashbacks in non-chronological order, a literary technique that formed part of Ford's pioneering use of literary impressionism. In 1998, the Modern Library ranked The Good Soldier 30th on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.

30 review for The Good Soldier

  1. 4 out of 5

    Darwin8u

    I don't know what anyone has to be proud of. Ford Madox Ford, The Good Soldier What? You mean this novel isn't about war? Is it possible to hate a book and love it at the same time? This is one of those books where it immediately becomes obvious you aren't going to read this novel for the strict pleasure of it. This book ain't ice cream on the beach folks. I don't think I've run across a more amoral, unsympathetic cast of characters since I visited Kehlsteinhaus. But, Ford Madox Ford is “I don't know what anyone has to be proud of.” ― Ford Madox Ford, The Good Soldier What? You mean this novel isn't about war? Is it possible to hate a book and love it at the same time? This is one of those books where it immediately becomes obvious you aren't going to read this novel for the strict pleasure of it. This book ain't ice cream on the beach folks. I don't think I've run across a more amoral, unsympathetic cast of characters since I visited Kehlsteinhaus. But, Ford Madox Ford is absolutely brilliant at portraying the decay, the depravity and the hypocrisy that existed in early 20th century English and American aristocracy. What a bunch of absolute rat bastards they all were. Nobody is happy. Nobody is true. Everybody gets eventually exactly what they deserve. This novel probably the most sexless novel containing the subtitle: A Tale of Passion. It is as sexy as a festering cavity and as passionate as an obsessive and unreliable group of narcissists can be. Two of my favorite writers were either heavily influenced by Ford (Graham Greene) or collaborated heavily with Ford (Joseph Conrad). This isn't a novel you can really ever love, but you will carry this novel with you and days and weeks later you still won't be able to escape its funky grasp. And THAT really is something.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Cecily

    "In all matrimonial associations there is, I believe, one constant factor - a desire to deceive the person with whom one lives as to some weak spot in one's character." (page 86) "Where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise" Most of us aspire to knowledge and perhaps we hope it will lead to wisdom. But we make exceptions. Sometimes major ones. Wilful ignorance of some dark behaviour of another or even oneself: an affair, addiction, abuse, debt, or fraud, for example. The layers of deception and "In all matrimonial associations there is, I believe, one constant factor - a desire to deceive the person with whom one lives as to some weak spot in one's character." (page 86) "Where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise" Most of us aspire to knowledge and perhaps we hope it will lead to wisdom. But we make exceptions. Sometimes major ones. Wilful ignorance of some dark behaviour of another or even oneself: an affair, addiction, abuse, debt, or fraud, for example. The layers of deception and self-deception build up. The higher the walls, the more damage if they come tumbling down. And acknowledging the possible wrongdoing of a friend, lover, or child raises doubts about our own judgement. If we dare think of it at all, we defend denial as self-preservation. But sometimes the outcome of inaction is the opposite - for others, if not ourselves. That is what's at the weak heart of this novel. Similar themes are explored in a more interesting way, in John Williams' early novel, Nothing But the Night, which I reviewed HERE. “Presumed innocent until proved guilty” It is the bedrock of our justice system, coded as article 11 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That’s fine in a court of law, but doesn’t always work so well in personal relationships. Doubt gnaws away, from inside, to outside. We believe or invent excuses: • “It was only once.” • “I didn’t realise what I was doing. I was a bit drunk.” • “Everyone else was doing it.” • “I can’t help it. Maybe it’s in my genes.” • “I was only looking. I didn’t actually do anything.” “But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” Matthew 5:28 (KJV) The saying doesn’t mean what I thought it did I knew the phrase about ignorance being bliss, but didn’t know the source. It’s the closing stanza of Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College, written by Thomas Gray in 1742. Rather than celebrating wilfully spurning knowledge and ignoring truth, it’s a nostalgic recollection of the innocence of childhood. That doesn’t make it any less relevant to this book, just differently so: middle aged people, acting like children. “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance” - Confucius Quotes • “An acquaintanceship as loose and easy and yet as close as a good glove’s with your hand.” • “Our intimacy was like a minuet, simply because on every possible occasion and in every possible circumstance we knew where to go, where to sit, which table we unanimously should choose.” • “His face hitherto had, in the wonderful English fashion, expressed nothing whatever. Nothing.” • “He wanted to preserve the virginity of his wife’s thoughts.” • “My recollection of that night is only the sort of pinkish effulgence from the electric lamps of the hotel lounge.” • “x was a personality of paper - that she represented a real human being with a heart, with feelings, with sympathies and with emotions only as a banknote represents a certain quantity of gold.” • “Fighting a long duel with unseen weapons against silent adversaries.” • “They had settled down into a model couple and they never spoke in private to each other.” • “Skilled servants whose mere laying out of my dress clothes was like a caress.” For praise, look elsewhere I started this with high hopes: a well-regarded classic, about a small group of people with somewhat dark and twisted lives. I often enjoy curmudgeonly old men narrating unreliably, even if there’s casual misogyny. I don’t like them as people, but I’m entranced. John Banville writes them well, for example (see my reviews of some of his novels HERE). But I found John Dowell irritating, and utterly lacking in charm. He chats away about himself, his wife (Florence), the Ashburnhams (Edward and Leonora), and others more like a mildly inebriated old codger than the mid-forties man he says he is. There are diversions, curious euphemisms ("education", wink-wink), and hints of what’s to come (who will die). Worse, he didn’t make me care about any of the people in the story, not even those he repeatedly claims to admire. For what the book is about, look elsewhere If you want a plot summary or character descriptions, GR and Google are your friends. The gist is two thirty-something couples, shortly before WW1, and the consequences of their various affairs and cover-ups. One person quitely notes and knows almost everything; another, nothing. Catholicism features strongly, along with differences between Brits and Americans. Rating Enjoyment: 1* Objective quality: 2* Thought-provokingness: 3* Favourite part: the illustration on the cover, which is uncredited, and seems unique to this book Random fact: the original tile, mentioned several times in the text, “The Saddest Story”

  3. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    What a sick, rotten, depraved society we're treated to, populated by liars and knaves, and yet I found myself heartbroken by the end, wondering what kind of magic spell Ford had cast on me. Ford is an absolute master of technique--in this case the use of flashbacks and an unreliable narrator--and I found myself riveted throughout. The novel begins with one of the most famous opening lines in literature: "This is the saddest story I have ever heard." That may well be true.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Steven Godin

    The Good Soldier I found to be a difficult book to grasp, at least to begin with. I felt the need to go back over the first 40 pages or so, just to try and accustom myself to it. Things paid of in the end, but it really did require patience, a quiet room, and reading big chunks at a time, rather than just picking off a few pages here and there. The theme is a strong one, that being marriage and adultery, with a narrator who you feel in the dark about, going over the events of two couples, one The Good Soldier I found to be a difficult book to grasp, at least to begin with. I felt the need to go back over the first 40 pages or so, just to try and accustom myself to it. Things paid of in the end, but it really did require patience, a quiet room, and reading big chunks at a time, rather than just picking off a few pages here and there. The theme is a strong one, that being marriage and adultery, with a narrator who you feel in the dark about, going over the events of two couples, one American, one English, the Ashburnhams, with whom they first meet at a German spa town early in the 1900's, thus they strike up a comfortable friendship. The story is told in a non chronological way, playing around with the memories of time. And there is one thing that struck me that I didn't first realize, the narrator (the American husband) didn't hear the story, he was a participant, and an arrogant one at that. The two couples would meet abroad for a month every year, and it transpires that one from each couple have been having a clandestine affair. You get the sense everything is drenched in misery, worry and panic the longer it goes on, even a partial happy ending feels false. In fact the very first line reads "This is the saddest story I have ever heard". Love here is most certainly a battlefield, through deception, contradiction, blind ignorance and sheer horror, the reader is taken over a threshold into an unsavoury world of troubling passions. There is an air of unreliability in it's fashion, in terms of the narrators voice. As if the beginning wasn't hard enough, he relates his tale jumping around in the middle of flashbacks, this would lead to things feel out of sequence, and leaving gaps that we are supposed to decipher, it's not a long novel, but does take a large dollop of grey matter, even as the full realization of what takes place gradually emerges, it's a story that calls for the attentive reader, but there were rewards as I tried to unpick all the fine details, as the narrator's unfolding interpretation of the passionate emotions manifested here are in very small gestures or brief remarks. This didn't always suit me, but Ford Madox Ford has written a clever and unique book that does at no time fall into your lap comfortably, but it's his style that ultimately gives it it's power, in turn I felt pity but also disgust at those involved. He paints the four portraits exceptionally well, Edward Ashburnham, the owner of a large estate in England; his wife, Leonora, daughter of impoverished Irish gentry, Florence, heiress to a New England fortune; and Nancy Rufford, Leonora's ward, who has lived with Edward and Leonora from the age of 13. And all at some point are plagued with melancholia and unsteady minds. It is clear as the novel proceeds we learn Edward and Leonora have no idea what intimacy is, and they also have no way of finding out, for one thing, nither read , and Leonora consults priests and nuns for marital advice. Edward consults no one, and there seems to be no structure in his life. Others of his class tell dirty stories, perhaps as a form of sharing information, but these only make Edward uncomfortable. Both the American and English marriages suffer from the emasculation of the husbands, and I think there is an element of unfair failures on behalf of Leonora and Florence, but Ford depicts the husbands more complexly and with a clearer eye. I have to say on the whole I am very impressed, the psychologies of his characters, the interweaving of memories that are done intentionally, and the sadness that echoes throughout, gets the thumbs up from me. I guess the overwhelming question is this, what do we truly know about the people we are supposed to know inside out?. A gracefully forlorn and beautifully explored read. 4/5

  5. 4 out of 5

    Kai

    We are all so afraid, we are all so alone, we all so need from the outside the assurance of our own worthiness to exist. This novel is so stunning. Oh my god. I did not expect it to be this good. After reading this a second time for my term paper, I'm still in awe of this book. I've never read anything quite like it. First of all, I'm glad I picked this up. We were supposed to read this for a literature class and if it wasn't for this seminar, I would never have picked up this novel in the first “We are all so afraid, we are all so alone, we all so need from the outside the assurance of our own worthiness to exist.” This novel is so stunning. Oh my god. I did not expect it to be this good. After reading this a second time for my term paper, I'm still in awe of this book. I've never read anything quite like it. First of all, I'm glad I picked this up. We were supposed to read this for a literature class and if it wasn't for this seminar, I would never have picked up this novel in the first place, because it's 1. old and 2. that title sound super boring. Well, the title is just as misleading as this books narrator. In the end, I should have known. Should have known that repeating "I don't know" 500 times is a good sign for a narrator's unreliability. Should have noticed the obvious mix up of dates. Should have recognised a liar when he's right in front of me. But all in all my ignorance did result in a fantastic read. Cause I never saw the many turns of events coming. Classics can be surprisingly exciting. This book - which has the subtitle A Tale of Passion - certainly is that. It has dark desires, hidden affairs, disturbing deaths and lots and lots of despair and madness. It's fantastic. I'd love to see it adapted as a modern film, preferably by Darren Aronofsky. I already told you enough, now it's your turn to read this book. Have fun and don't let yourself be fooled. Find more of my books on Instagram

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jr Bacdayan

    Storytelling is about as much an art as is writing. Any piece of paper can have beautifully constructed sentences, impeccable prose, dazzling verses, yet when there simply is nothing to tell all those words are moot. The alarming strength of the Good Soldier can be found in its maze-like narration that starts off with an innocent consciousness that through the pages, like a survivor seeing a massacre unfold as a blinding mist slowly recedes, realizes one by one the sins of the world he once Storytelling is about as much an art as is writing. Any piece of paper can have beautifully constructed sentences, impeccable prose, dazzling verses, yet when there simply is nothing to tell all those words are moot. The alarming strength of the Good Soldier can be found in its maze-like narration that starts off with an innocent consciousness that through the pages, like a survivor seeing a massacre unfold as a blinding mist slowly recedes, realizes one by one the sins of the world he once thought blameless. Most novels take a linear approach to storytelling, which, if anything, makes it easier to follow. But Ford Madox Ford’s novel is unbridled both by the restraints of time, and the compunction to resist the temptation of misleading his audience. Certainly there have been a whole score of writers who have attempted to untangle the deathly winding strings of chaotic storytelling, but it is Madox Ford who truly succeeds in this aspect, if not the first to render it so masterfully. And so with this novel, it is no great wonder that he deeply influenced a bevy of wordsmiths who went on to become master storytellers themselves from Graham Greene to Julian Barnes. On the surface, the Good Soldier is a tale about two couples, one American – the Dowells, one English – the Ashburnhams, whose interconnected lives head towards a collision that would leave each of them devastated and shatter the perfectly fragile image of marriage in their souls. However upon closer inspection one realizes that this novel is truly centered on just one of them. This person, I won’t mention which, is the driving force that changes the direction of the haunted lives of the two couples. Of course, the somewhat unreliable narrator in John Dowell whose shifting account is responsible for the novel’s mysterious atmosphere is the observer whose feelings one directly learns. But as soon as the journey starts and things go on their way, one learns that his truth has always been missing a significant piece of information enough to contaminate the assumptions one holds. And thus, even though a lone figure is moving the story, each character gradually adds a distinct element of their truth to the pot of truths that will eventually reach its desolate perfection. “We are all so afraid, we are all so alone, we all so need from the outside the assurance of our own worthiness to exist.” This novel opens saying “this is the saddest story I have ever heard.” And, yes, there certainly is a sentimental sort of sadness that affects this work. However, frightening seems more apt to describe the sensation grasping my heart as this story progresses. It does not only depict the horrifying life of marriages tainted by infidelity but mulls over the different kinds of individuals that exist within its exclusive walls, painfully hidden from the world, all searching for redemption in a sacred union which yields only torture. Through this novel, Ford Madox Ford shows us the terrifying reality of veiled innocence and the impending tragedy that awaits us as we learn of the horrible truths that are looming over us undetected, like a lost sheep unaware of a pack of wolves surrounding it waiting for the right moment in which lies certain death.

  7. 5 out of 5

    ·Karen·

    Oh! Propriety! Nowadays there's a word for Edward Ashburnham. And I don't mean some modern vulgarity, unavailable to the Edwardians, something like emotional fuck-up, appropriate as that may be (or not). No, I'm thinking serial monogamist. The term is new, because the concept is new. At the turn of the 20th century there was monogamy. Or there was promiscuity: casual couplings with seamstresses, milliners, laundresses or the convenient and pliable housemaid. A taboo subject, to be spoken of in Oh! Propriety! Nowadays there's a word for Edward Ashburnham. And I don't mean some modern vulgarity, unavailable to the Edwardians, something like emotional fuck-up, appropriate as that may be (or not). No, I'm thinking serial monogamist. The term is new, because the concept is new. At the turn of the 20th century there was monogamy. Or there was promiscuity: casual couplings with seamstresses, milliners, laundresses or the convenient and pliable housemaid. A taboo subject, to be spoken of in hushed tones in polite society. These affairs were of necessity casual, because the women, by succumbing to the blandishments of their suitors, had turned themselves into 'fallen' women, immediately and irretrievably. Business partners, the only question being that of remuneration or pay off when favours were no longer required. So in an age when women were thought of as either Madonna or Magdalene, in matters of the heart, Edward is a modern man, one who sincerely believes himself in love with the object of his desire. His laughable disconnect with conventional attitudes is portrayed in grotesque mode in his dealings with La Dolciquita, the mistress of the Grand Duke of Nauheim-Schwerin. With a passion that 'had arisen like a fire in dry corn' Ashburnham is ready to declare his undying love after a single night. The Spanish lady's passions however are of the more commercial kind. With all the romanticism of a risk assessment manager, she details for him the precise financial condition (twenty thousand) that might induce her to service him as well as the Duke. Premiums, policy, twenty per cent risk stand in sharp relief to Edward's discovery that 'he was madly, was passionately, was overwhelmingly in love with her.' Poor Edward. Poor noble, heroic, respectable, stupid man, to believe in true love. John Dowell, the narrator, has a word for him. Sentimentalist. A prey to his imagined sentiments. Serial monogamy, thus the Spanish lady is the first in a series. As one might imagine, the world of 1904 does not see this as a valid lifestyle choice. Nor does his wife truly embrace the situation, but rather tries to manage it, even anticipating his desires, arranging, paying expenses - pimping for him? She is certainly not of the disposition or religious convictions that would allow her to discreetly claim sauce for the goose as well as the gander, nor is divorce even thinkable. And like any society, the decorous world of 1904 exacts a price for aberrant behaviour. The price is high, and cannot be paid in hard currency, and will not be paid by Edward alone. Society must go on, I suppose, and society can only exist if the normal, if the virtuous, and the slightly-deceitful flourish, and if the passionate, the headstrong, and the too-truthful are condemned to suicide and madness. What I've said so far might make this look like a fairly ornery (melodramatic?) exposé of hypocritical Edwardian sexual mores, the story of an unhappy marriage. Complexity is added by John Dowell, our narrator, being one half of a second couple, who dance an intricate minuet with the Ashburnhams. But what makes this so powerful, so mysterious, so haunting is the method of narration. Ford was a friend of Joseph Conrad. Both of them championed the technique that Ford called progression d'effet: as the story progresses it should move forward faster and faster and with more and more intensity. Well, I can testify to unmitigated success there. The start was slow, and demanded a little back and forth and round about, but from part 2 onwards the pages seemed to turn themselves, and from part 3 I'd have robbed myself of any amount of sleep to finish it. In my recent review of Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me (gad that sounds soooo pretentious) I mused a little on how a first person narrator could be an encumbrance or limitation. But here the opposite is the case: John Dowell's apparently haphazard way of telling this sad story adds layer upon layer. First there is the challenge of working out the chronology of events, then there are those puzzling enigmas whose true significance only becomes apparent much later, and, most engaging of all, there is the much-debated question of how much we can trust John Dowell at all. Is he disingenuous, or deliberately manipulative, or simply ignorant (as he claims)? This may be the saddest story he's ever heard - heard? But he's telling it! - but is he aware how funny he sometimes is? The delicious irony: before La Dolciquita, Edward gave himself a nasty jar when he found himself comforting a weeping nursemaid in a third class railway carriage, and went a little too far in his half-fatherly concern. The result? The Kilsyte Case. Not quite Dreyfus material, but nasty for him all the same. Multiple ironies: he was travelling third class (!) to please Leonora - see I can economise! - and would never even have met a nursemaid in first class; this, the most innocent of his affairs had the gravest of judicial consequences, and the final irony is that his brush with the law did not discourage him from more flirtation, but in fact opened up the country. Oh, and it brought him closer to his wife. There is more, so much more than the question of marital fidelity: social classes, America and England, deception - ah deception! Dowell's wife! But I won't spoil it for you. Impressions and ideas. Our first impressions of people, how reliable are they? And Dowell disconfirms the first impressions he gives us over and over and over. Ideas, concepts: can we experience a feeling before we know intellectually that such an emotion exists? Can we feel anything that hasn't had a name put to it? I'm certain that I will read this again, and if I wrote another review after the second reading it would probably be totally different. And again after the third. Is there any higher praise? Re-read in July 2019: this time it's all the stuff about religion that struck me hardest. It is a queer and fantastic world. Why can't people have what they want? The things were all there to content everybody; yet everybody has the wrong thing. Perhaps you can make head or tail of it; it is beyond me.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

    Wow, was this well done. I almost wrote 'fantastic', but that didn't seem appropriate to the mood of the piece. It is also throughly soul-crushing, of course, but that shouldn't affect your reading plans in favor of it. It really is a must-read, I think. The book is a thorough condemnation of the principles of Edwardian society and the Victorian society that came before it, made all the more effective by the fact that it comes from the most unlikely source, a timid, quiet American man who has Wow, was this well done. I almost wrote 'fantastic', but that didn't seem appropriate to the mood of the piece. It is also throughly soul-crushing, of course, but that shouldn't affect your reading plans in favor of it. It really is a must-read, I think. The book is a thorough condemnation of the principles of Edwardian society and the Victorian society that came before it, made all the more effective by the fact that it comes from the most unlikely source, a timid, quiet American man who has happened to fall into this drama that he never wanted to be a part of. He is a throughly unreliable narrator, telling the tale "as one would to a friend by the fireside," jumping back and forth in time and giving one opinion of a person, place or event, and then remembering something else and adding in details on that later. His own personal feelings on situations also come into play, in the background, affecting his judgement in a really heartbreaking sort of way. I got as interested in the silences of the narrator as his retelling of the tale of the others around him. I think really that /his/ is the "saddest story ever told," or at least on par with the story that he is telling. The unreliable narrator convention works brilliantly here, drawing the reader into the story with a sympathy for the narrator (Mr. Dowell), as well as easily listening to the tale as if they were that friend by the fireside. I will say that it may get a bit confusing for some people, due to its rambling, wandering structure, but honestly, it is worth it in the end. It really makes it all come out beautifully. One really does end up rooting for characters that in the "conventional" sense, would range from vain to mildly despicable to foolish, if all we got was their most basic actions and story. I don't think I have ever rooted for a man's infidelities that much in a novel. But never unambiguously. He does not allow one's opinion to be that simple on either side. Novels that are "grey" are always the best ones. Ford Madox Ford was in the thick of the Lost Generation when he wrote this, so his very bleak outlook on life, and disllusionment with society is not an usual attitude to find. He was friends with Fitzgerald and Hemingway and Gertrude Stein, after all. It was interesting to me to note, however, the parallels between his statements on pre-World War I society and those of the primordialists, who were the primary intellectual advocates for "change", and saw Victorian/Edwardian society as inwardly rotting, full of ennui, stuck in a rut, essentially. Which is what Ford undubitably belives here. However, it is the primordiailst attitude that promoted the crowds' wild reception of World War I, the cheering masses that came out in support of it, despite how easily it could have been avoided. And yet this book supports all those passions that were a part of that movement. I cannot tell if there is some condemnation of himself in there, some self-hatred, for believing this. He asks of his reader at the end of the novel, "Who really is the villain of the piece?" He has his narrator change his opinion on that several times, and mine also changed. I'm still wrestling over it a bit. Anyway, read it

  9. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    This is a story of two marriages, a philandering husband, a controlling wife, living lies, keeping up appearances, misusing religion and pursuing happiness in all the wrong places. It is told by an unreliable narrator who scarcely seems to understand the import of the story himself. It is wonderfully constructed, gloriously convoluted, and amazingly misdirected. The narrator tells us, "I have stuck to my idea of being in a country cottage with a silent listener, hearing between the gusts of the This is a story of two marriages, a philandering husband, a controlling wife, living lies, keeping up appearances, misusing religion and pursuing happiness in all the wrong places. It is told by an unreliable narrator who scarcely seems to understand the import of the story himself. It is wonderfully constructed, gloriously convoluted, and amazingly misdirected. The narrator tells us, "I have stuck to my idea of being in a country cottage with a silent listener, hearing between the gusts of the wind and amidst the noises of the distant sea, the story as it comes." He bounces back and forth and reveals in increments and as he does, your view of the people and events changes and changes and changes again. It is a queer and fantastic world. Why can't people have what they want? The things were all there to content everybody; yet everybody has the wrong thing. Perhaps you can make head or tail of it; it is beyond me. Indeed, it is beyond them all, because none of them seems to know what they want or what they feel, and the not knowing is a trap with serious consequences. I liked this book tremendously. Much more than I thought I was going to when I began it. Ford almost does magic, because he makes you shift your perspective and your view and your understanding of the characters until you have flipped your impressions on their heads, but he does it without making you feel cheated or misinformed. And, so it is in life. We often form opinions on too little information. First impressions are often wrong. A small bit of information can make us see everything in a different light. And, placing blame is not always easy.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    Todays special from the bill of fare: Crow. Market Price. Served with a complimentary slice of stale pumpernickel and a glass of river water. I really did not think I was going to enjoy this book one bit; I also erroneously believed it was included in the collection of crap known as Times 100 Best 20th Century Novels, and the fact it isnt is probably why it was actually enjoyable. This is, however, included on several other hits lists, such as the ridiculous 1001 Books to Read Before You Die Today’s special from the bill of fare: Crow. Market Price. Served with a complimentary slice of stale pumpernickel and a glass of river water. I really did not think I was going to enjoy this book one bit; I also erroneously believed it was included in the collection of crap known as Time’s ‘100 Best 20th Century Novels’, and the fact it isn’t is probably why it was actually enjoyable. This is, however, included on several other ‘hits lists’, such as the ridiculous 1001 Books to Read Before You Die (which is basically 901 lame entries longer than Time’s list) and Another Preposterous List of Over-Hyped Books by Some Barmy Old Codgers Adorned With Glowing Accolades For Their Thorough Understanding of Meritorious Literature. After reading “The Good Soldier”, I have no problem offering my own totally unfounded pronouncement that this book should be considered for inclusion on any such list. This is the second story in a row for me (following Martin Amis’s “Success”) in which the central gimmick of the tale is unreliable narration and point of view; and while the p.o.v. and narration are always a key factor to a story, in both of these cases the importance and bearing is decidedly pronounced, every event must be considered and weighed in light of the narration before attempting to discern its ultimate reality. I tend to look at these stories in the light that the author knows that the fibers of the yarn they’re spinning aren’t unique nor profound, but the way in which it is spun is compelling; thus to me it’s more of an exercise in writing than captivating storytelling. Narrating “The Good Soldier” is Captain Oblivious, better known as John Dowell to his extremely small group of friends, who readily admits that he isn’t a very perceptive fellow, nor is he very good at getting across a story in a straightforward fashion, so he begs that the reader understand that his intention is to lay this saddest of stories out in a fashion as though he was sitting by the fire with a close and attentive confidant (and a bottle of brandy), simply discussing any pertinent events as they come to mind regardless of their rightful chronological juxtaposition. I actually found the technique effective at making John Dowell an extremely likeable character, but at the same time it does completely strip away much of the oomph which should be imparted by any event that might be seen as pivotal or climactic: by page ten you already know the unfortunate outcome of the story, all that is left is to get the details, a difficult feat when your narrator has powers of perception trumped by those of an aardvark in a sensory deprivation tank. There is no way you can really create a ‘spoiler’ for this work, at least not for anyone who has so much as begun reading it. Capt. Oblivious has to get this story off his chest, and so he’s telling it to you, dear reader. It concerns his deceitful trollop wife, Florence, and the couple which they are best friends with, the well-shod Edward and Leonora Ashburnham. The foursome meet for the first time in Nauheim, Germany, at a spa reputed for their effectiveness in combating cardiac problems, which is required for the well being of Florence Dowell and Edward Ashburnham, and proceed to accompany each other for the next decade to Nauheim, outwardly portraying the ideal friendship of two affluent, successful, and loving couples. Little does anyone know that beneath this veneer, things are worse than can even be imagined, and interestingly enough, Captain Oblivious seems to be on the outside looking in as well, clueless as to what transpires after his nightly blackout from overindulgence of gin. But, it’s been some time since the blinders were removed from our narrator, who has taken his time to collect his thoughts and connect the dots, and he can now make some sort of sense of the proceedings. Both couples are of good social standing in polite society, or ‘Good People’, as John Dowell assures us often. Both men proudly hail from old, established wealth, and Edward ended up with Leonora due to an arranged marriage of sorts, and John pursued Florence for what seems like no better reason than to acquire a trophy wife while shirking anything resembling employment or social responsibility (had World of Warcraft existed at the time, he’d probably never have bothered, and would have set a Guiness World Record for most hours logged of online play). The couples share one very interesting aspect in their unions; it appears that neither has ever consummated their marriage. The reasons for this strange lack of passion are similar; Edward Ashburnham is an english Adonis whom women clamor for the attentions of, and he makes sure to perform the gentlemanly duty of never denying a lady, and Florence Dowell was (unbeknownst to Captain Oblivious) quite the tramp before John ever made her acquaintance. John, who has absolutely no clue as to what is going on, is under the belief that Flo has a heart condition, and that the act of lovemaking might potentially sound her death knell, thus the trips to Nauheim and other strange facets of her behavior, which all reek of subterfuge to the normal human. Leonora is completely aware of Edward’s infidelities, which have all taken the form of long-term ordeals with increasing passion for his partners, but in order to maintain the façade of Good People, she dutifully covers these transgressions up, while also taking over her husband’s business affairs to prevent them from financial ruin due to his nature as a wastrel. As absurd as it may seem, the easiest time that Leonora has ever had keeping the rest of society’s upper crust from discovering her husband’s true nature is in suppressing the trysts which Edward and Florence have been continuing for years. Naturally, if this knowledge never saw the light of day, there wouldn’t be a story. There isn’t a whole lot that keeps me from giving “The Good Soldier” a full five stars. I’ll say this is a four-and-a-half, but will round it down, for the following reasons: First, the end of the novel seems to taper off. I understand that there is a lapse in the amount of time that has passed in the narration itself when John Dowell resumes to tell Part IV, and I interpreted this to be representative of his preoccupation with changes in his lifestyle (most notably Ms. Rufford’s presence), a marked descent into melancholia, and generally a lack of enthusiasm to find the right fit for the remaining puzzle pieces. This is all good and well, but the first three parts are so ecstatically told, that I couldn’t really enjoy his festering ennui. Secondly, his continuous praise of Edward Ashburnham. The way Ford approaches the narration manages to make even despicable frauds like Edward and Florence likable, no easy feat, and Dowell’s conviction even made me like the guy. But his praise was incessant, and left me wondering which of the Dowells Edward was actually buggering. Lastly, one thing which I still haven't quite wrapped my head around; so I don’t know whether to call this a positive or a negative. It is mentioned repeatedly that prior to his ugly demise, Edward went on a long-winded speech/apology/rant to John. As I was personally craving to hear it, it was a tremendous let down that it is completely left out of the story!! Or is it? (cue Twilight Zone music). Sure, Dowell admits to having skipped many significant details from lack of proper recollection, but he does make reference to Edward’s Grand Pronouncement about 30 times, and each reference connects it to some event or sentiment. Could this great confession be surreptitiously dispersed throughout the novel, and one could go back and reconstruct the gist of it themselves? If so, it’s possible that this might be the cleverest trick in storytelling I’ve personally been subjected to. Or I suppose I could just be really baked.

  11. 5 out of 5

    David

    The Good Soldier is so heartbreakingly beautiful. I wonder if I have ever felt so conflicted when a book came to an end, on the one hand I didn't want the experience to end - I unearthed gems on every page, gems of solemnity, disappointment, angst, and insight; on the other, each page filled me with renewed heartbreak. The "saddest story" is about two couples, the upright up-class English Ashburnhams (Edward (the eponymous, ironic "good soldier") and Leonora) and the American Dowells (John (our The Good Soldier is so heartbreakingly beautiful. I wonder if I have ever felt so conflicted when a book came to an end, on the one hand I didn't want the experience to end - I unearthed gems on every page, gems of solemnity, disappointment, angst, and insight; on the other, each page filled me with renewed heartbreak. The "saddest story" is about two couples, the upright up-class English Ashburnhams (Edward (the eponymous, ironic "good soldier") and Leonora) and the American Dowells (John (our tragically naive or self-deceptive narrator), and Florence). Th Good Soldier is "about" two couple's disintegration, poisoned by infidelity and deception; but more deeply than that it is about the impotence of the human condition (represented in the specific and literal impotence of John Dowell). This book finishes where it begins, and the whole distillation of it can be summed up best as by John Dowell: It is a queer and fantastic world. Why can't people have what they want? The things were all there to content everybody; yet everybody has got the wrong thing. Perhaps you can make head or tail of it; it is beyond me. Is there any terrestrial paradise where, amidst the whispering of the olive-leaves, people can be with whom they like and have what they like and take their ease in shadows and in coolness? Why can't people have what they want? That's really the pivotal question of all literature, of everything it means to be human. Everyone wants something, someone, but can't have everything they want - and if they get everything they want, it lacks novelty and then they want novelty above all else. Because we're human, we want what we don't have, and oftenest what we can't have. Dowell's allusion to the "terrestrial paradise" - to Adam and Eve's paradise - is perfect, poignant. We give up perfection for something that is flawed but forbidden. Since it is unknown to us we cannot know it's flaws, know it's true consequences, until we break with what we have and try it. But what if to try it is to lose everything? This struggle, this self-burning passion for "something other than what we have" is elucidated by Proust, who compares our longing to "an idle harp, [which] wants to resonate under some hand, even a rough one, and even if it might be broken by it." And this tactile desire, to be touched - even if it is by a rough hand, a worse hand - is central to the dilemma of infidelity. So many eternal novels revolve on the axis of infidelity, and we read them, and we love them, we feel that we relate to them even when we are models of fidelity. As a society we relate to these marital transgressions because we know what it's like to feel both content and dissatisfied with what we have. We don't really want to be satisfied, we want to be surfeit, and we feel that we can never know if that over-fullness of joy is possible unless we take impossible chances, risk losing everything. But few of us are really willing to risk everything if we don't have to. We feel that by discretion or mock devotion we can keep what we have while we seek what we want - and this is the Janus-faced desire at the heart of The Good Soldier. The character of Edward Ashburnam is the complete essence of this desire (though it is apparent in the four main characters), his transgressions are not about sex, nor necessarily about "love" - but about a romantic vision of what love should be, which is often defined by what he doesn't have with Leonora. Whether it is with Nancy or Florence, or any of his other mistresses, he is endlessly looking for something, but never knows what it is. But despite his errant heart, it never is willing to stray completely from Leonora. Even though she is cold to him, and grows colder, some part of him loves her to the state of devotion, of, ultimately, sacrifice of that desire and of his life. Leonora wants nothing more than her husband's love, but she will never let herself have it. As a result at first of stifling convention of her upbringing, and her own insecurities, she cannot bring herself to give herself up to Edward. As they grow older and he strays from her, her love for him become a love only of possession and control - she controls him by forgiving him, but by inwardly hating her own forgiveness. Edward knows that he has harmed his wife, that he has made her cold to him, and his own compunction keeps him from breaking with her completely. Leonora, who has almost perfect knowledge of the melodrama happenings in the novel, perhaps wishes most, unconsciously, to have the naivete of John Dowell. Her diligent, but mirthless, hunt for knowledge, is self-immolating. She convinces herself of Edwards guilt and persecutes him with her coldness, but in doing so makes attainment of his love impossible. Her problem parallel's John's, though her knowledge makes her marriage impossible to enjoy: "If for nine years I have possessed a goodly apple that is rotten at the core and discover its rottenness only in nine years and six months less four days, isn't it true to say that for nine years I possessed a goodly apple?" Unlike Dowell, Leonora assumes from the start that Edward is rotten at the core, and so she forgoes even a honeymoon happiness. Florence is, perhaps, the most difficult character to understand. At turns she is portrayed by her husband-cuckold-narrator in terms of pre-disillusionment idealism, and post-disillusionment vitriol; paragon of demur innocence, and reviled harlot. In some ways I think she risks everything when she marries Dowell, and then regrets it, and her's is the story of trying to escape her own choices. On the surface, she may be literally seeking sexual satisfaction, which her impotent husband cannot offer her, but I suspect her problem is not so simple. I don't think I believe that she ever really loved Dowell, but I also don't believe that she ever loved Edward either - I think that she doesn't know what love is, and perhaps equates it with some amalgam of sex and romance - two things which the painter and Edward both fulfill her with. But love has to have some element of spiritual, passionate devotion, something that is adds value to the Self and adds value to the Other - something like looking though a window at the one you love, but seeing also your reflection in the glass. Florence can only see through the medium, she can only picture the value of the other, as something which has a set price, and which she can shop for, she never receives anything in her extra-marital exchanges, at least nothing like what Dowell is willing to offer her - everything he has, everything he can be. And she throws it away, and sometimes we all do that. We throw away something either because we see something better, or maybe we throw it away by accident, by forgetfulness. Despite the difficulties, the heartbreak, despite the cruel ironies and bitter inconsistencies of the Ashburnams (primarily) and the Dowells (secondarily), this is a truly beautiful novel - a testament that all human emotion, even pain, has beauty. What struck me most was John Dowell as the narrator, his constant back-and-forth dance in time, the strange significance on coincidence and the date of August 2, when many of the novel's events take place, though years apart, made me question his mental faculties. Health is so recurring a motif in the novel, the weak "hearts" of Florence and Edward, the sanatorium in Nauheim where they meet, the confused illness of Florence's family, etc. and the claim that Nancy has become an invalid at the end. But we never hear about how the psyche of Dowell survived the self-styled saddest story, at least not directly. This novel, which I love, which is perhaps one of my favorites for ever, owes its complete brilliance of emotion, splendor of style, and so forth, to it's narrator - the wonderfully crafted and contradicted and confused John Dowell. I was lulled and enchanted by his solemn insightfulness, his somber story-telling, his impotent view of the human condition. I love Dowell. He is naive, he is imperfect and flawed, he self-deceives and is too-quick to trust those who deceive him - but that's so human, and I sympathize with him at the same time as I criticize his human foolishness.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Quo

    The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford begins with John Dowell, the novel's narrator, suggesting to the reader that this is "the saddest story I have ever heard." This is the prologue to a 200 page journey into the nature of truth, the comprehension of reality, first impressions gone astray, faulty recollections and above all irony because nothing or almost nothing is as it appears in this classic work of fiction, consistently labelled a "modernist" tale. There are in fact times when the characters The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford begins with John Dowell, the novel's narrator, suggesting to the reader that this is "the saddest story I have ever heard." This is the prologue to a 200 page journey into the nature of truth, the comprehension of reality, first impressions gone astray, faulty recollections and above all irony because nothing or almost nothing is as it appears in this classic work of fiction, consistently labelled a "modernist" tale. There are in fact times when the characters appear like caricatures rather than real figures meant to convey the spirit of Edwardian England. Initially, the novel seems more like an extensive monologue full of oblique references dealing with characters who appear petulant, self-absorbed, ambivalent, supercilious & all-in-all, quite tiresome. However, gradually the tale builds the narration into something rather memorable, chiefly in support of 2 couples, with the American, Mr. Dowell, as narrator describing himself as "natty, precise, well-brushed, conscious of being rather small", almost like T.S. Eliot's Mr. Prufrock, then introducing us to Edward Ashburnham. In so doing, Dowell makes a considerable effort to portray Ashburnham as a quintessential English gentleman and beyond that "a model of goodness". With Dowell as our guide, we gain details of their wives shortly thereafter. Dowell is in an apparently celibate marriage to an American woman named Florence who is said to be suffering from a heart condition but who seems neurasthenic, while Mr. Ashburnham is in an arranged marriage with Leonora, an Irish woman who is Roman-Catholic to his Anglicanism & is one of 7 sisters who are a drain on their father's finances. Leonora has gone almost directly from a convent existence to life with Ashburnham, a revered army officer with time in India, some achievements in South Africa during the Boer War & who has extensive land holdings in England but with whom she has absolutely nothing in common. None of the principal characters, who first encounter each other at a fashionable spa in Germany, seem to have even a remote idea of how to endure an evolving marriage or even how to conduct an enduring relationship of any kind. It is said that "Leonora loved Edward with a passion that was yet like an agony of hatred, having lived with him for years & years without ever addressing to him one word of tenderness." They tend to reach out to one another but within a kind of void, much as those adrift might attempt to hang on to any available floating object. I recall it being said of a oddly-matched British couple that they had a "rather English marriage", except that in the film version of a book with that name, the arrangement involved two men, one being in service to the other, with the difference being that they developed a stronger bond than Leonora & Edward were capable of. There are a string of adulteries, including Dowell's being cuckolded at the hands of the man he most reveres, an occasional suicide and frequently baffling descriptions of the main characters, one by another that seem almost contradictory. I kept thinking of a Luigi Pirandello play I saw in NYC ages ago with Helen Hayes late in her career, Right You Are If your Think You Are where at various points the characters address the audience with the words: "And that my friends is the truth" but with each statement seeming to contradict the previous "truth". And, I was also reminded of a 1960s Alain Resnais film, Last Year at Marienbad, set at an elaborate spa, where a man & woman meet & one hearkens back to the memory of an affair between the two, when in fact they most probably have never previously met each other. The search for what is truth rather than illusion seems well beyond the grasp of the characters in The Good Soldier. Late in the novel, John Dowell, the narrator, reflects on his life:I seem to perceive myself following the lines of Edward Ashburnham. I am no doubt like any other man; only perhaps because of my American origin, I am fainter. At the same time, I am able to assure you that I am a respectable person. I have never done anything that the most anxious mother of a daughter or the most careful dean of a cathedral would object to. I have only followed in my unconscious desires Edward Ashburnham. Well, it is all over. Not one of us has got what we really wanted. Why can't people have what they want? The things were all there to content everybody; yet everybody has the wrong thing. Perhaps you can make head or tail of it but it is beyond me. Are all men's lives like the lives of us good people--like the Ashburnhams.One of the most telling quotes I've come upon is that by Anais Nin and would seem to serve as a coda of sorts for The Good Soldier: "We don't see things as they are; we see things as we are." With all of this ambiguity, we have to remind ourselves that the world was a vastly different place a century ago, particularly for women who had little prospect of a meaningful career & often were referenced primarily by their spousal relationship but also for wealthy men in search of an identity not defined by their surname, kinship ties to royalty, degree of land ownership or military exploits. Beyond that, when Ford Madox Ford wrote the novel, Europe & Great Britain were on the verge of a radical social transformation that began with the outbreak of WWI. Ford Madox Ford's best-known novel, The Good Soldier is hardly everyone's cup of tea but it has many qualities that cause one to question & to consider the variables of how each of us relates to one another, well beyond the plot & the characters who are given life within the story. Ford Madox Ford coauthored various literary efforts with his longtime friend Joseph Conrad and was a part of the literary ferment of the early 20th century that included novelists James Joyce & Henry James, as well as poet Ezra Pound, among others. As founder of the Trans-Atlantic Review in Paris, Mr. Ford worked with the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein & other writers. *The first photo image within the review is of Ford Madox Ford, while the second has from left to right: James Joyce, Ezra Pound, John Quinn (American modernist art patron) & Ford Madox Ford.

  13. 5 out of 5

    K.D. Absolutely

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. He is found lying in the pool of his own blood at the entrance of his bakery. He has slit his throat with a sharp knife. Have you seen how a chicken is killed in the kitchen? The butcher or the cook does not fully decapitate the chicken right away. He first slits the chickens neck and collects the blood in a saucer with raw rice. This blood in rice can be added to the viand later together with the rest of the chicken meat. The man, likened to the chicken, was the husband of my paternal He is found lying in the pool of his own blood at the entrance of his bakery. He has slit his throat with a sharp knife. Have you seen how a chicken is killed in the kitchen? The butcher or the cook does not fully decapitate the chicken right away. He first slits the chicken’s neck and collects the blood in a saucer with raw rice. This blood in rice can be added to the viand later together with the rest of the chicken meat. The man, likened to the chicken, was the husband of my paternal grandfather’s sister. He killed himself because he found out that his wife was having an affair with their baker. It remains as one of the biggest scandals in the history of our island-town unequaled even up to now. It’s just that only the really old people could still recall the story told to them by their parents. All those who lived during that time are already dead. It probably happened at the same time, 1910-1914, when Ford Madox Ford (x) wrote this book, The Good Soldier. I am not sure what went on during those years. As another example, in her lifetime, my paternal grandmother had 3 husbands. Maybe it was because of the wars had directly or indirectly had some effects to the needs, I don’t want to say libido because they were my ancestors, or morale of their generation. Maybe because of fear (from war and chaos), they wanted to have a stronger assurance, through amorous illicit affairs, from somebody that their legal partners could not provide. Ford originally thought of giving this book, The Good Soldier the title The Saddest Story as he begins his narration with the line ”This is the saddest story that I heard so far.”, I read 400+ novels and I can say that this, indeed, is one of the saddest novels I’ve read so far. It is a story of two couples, 2 of them plus one of the mistresses die before the story ends. One American couple, John Dowell, the narrator and his wife for nine years, Florence goes to Europe because Florence wants to live there.. Their marriage cannot be consummated because Florence has a heart problem which later gets divulged to be untrue as she is having an affair with Jimmy the cabin boy. In Paris, the John and Florence meet and English couple, Edward who has plan to join the British army and John sees him as a perfect gentleman (thus the title The Good Soldier) and Leonora, the devout Catholic woman. I will not spoil it by telling you the complete plot. Suffice it to say that the way Ford made their lives interwoven is so disturbing that it made me recall the stories from generations past of my own lineage. Does infidelity run in my blood? I hope not. I am rating with 3 stars for two reasons: (1) I understand that the narrator wants himself to be just an observer and he shows indifference to the story. For example, when asked the question how does it "feel to be a deceived husband?" and he can only respond with the answer: "Heavens, I do not know. It just feels nothing at all." This is quite unbelievable. Well, based on the story of my forefather who had to kill himself because of his wife’s treachery or deception; (2) For quite some time now, I have been trying to read war novels and the title deceived me. There is not a single war scene in this book. This is about passion, adultery, deception, murder, suicide, etc. but not war. The rambling-like narration is understandable because John Dowell is part of the story and telling everything once again should be painful for him. Thus the sporadic and fragmentary recall of the incidents is justifiable and for me, makes the story more interesting as far as form is concerned.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Antonomasia

    I don't think it's a good idea to read and review books know you won't like, unless you're being paid for it, or trying to get decent marks in a course that has them on the syllabus. Even so, I do it occasionally too. For this list, I needed one Ford Madox Ford book. The subject of Parade's End appealed somewhat more - though not a lot - and I avoided watching the TV series partly in expectation of one day reading the book. But I've never been terribly keen on the subjects of Ford's books - and I don't think it's a good idea to read and review books know you won't like, unless you're being paid for it, or trying to get decent marks in a course that has them on the syllabus. Even so, I do it occasionally too. For this list, I needed one Ford Madox Ford book. The subject of Parade's End appealed somewhat more - though not a lot - and I avoided watching the TV series partly in expectation of one day reading the book. But I've never been terribly keen on the subjects of Ford's books - and late Victorian to circa 1919 is the period of history I'm least interested in, especially when it comes to the sort of upper-class minutiae often found in classic novels. So it would have been a tall order to expect myself to read a book as long as Parade's End. (These days it is published and apparently thought of as one novel, so I wouldn't have felt like I'd read Ford if I'd only read the first book of it.) But The Good Soldier? I'd been looking warily at it for years. It looked like my idea of boring. I'm not interested in novels about well-off people having affairs, unless the setting is one I find compelling. But over the last few months, the sheer brevity of The Good Soldier - the default edition on GR is unusual in having over 300 pages; in most it's much shorter - plus something I hadn't quite registered before, its placement on a lot of all-time best books lists, including the 1001, made me decide to read the thing after all. With a book like this, both short and something I probably wouldn't enjoy, I should really run at it and read it in two days, to get it over and done with (as I did with Updike's Rabbit, Run a couple of months ago) but that didn't happen. It was about 10 days before I'd even finished the introduction. The intro is very thorough in this Penguin Classics edition, and, as I read, my expectations of the novel fluctuated. Oh great, it's an unreliable narrator *as well*. But there are lots of details of social history? Cool, maybe this will be okay after all. The prospect of the interesting details being swamped by an unreliable narrator who was unreliable even with some of his historical factoids, *and* the affair story, *and* the 1900s-early 1910s setting, made me both apprehensive and bored. But it's simply a short novel, it's hardly the worst thing in the world. And it wasn't really. The conversational narration reminded me of the way a few friends and acquaintances speak and write, especially people who tend towards the eccentrically vintage, so that was rather comfortable of it. (But does that mean the American narrator, John Dowell, sounds too English?) The details, especially about places the characters visited, were, in Part One (of Four) agreeably and distractingly dense, and nearly all well annotated. (Occasionally obscure things were missed, and occasionally there was over-annotation - the overlap is surely negligible between people who'd read a Penguin Classic of The Good Soldier and people who don't know who George Washington was, or why Henry VIII broke with Rome.) I was amused by Florence and Leonora's polite duel about whose general knowledge of their sightseeing destinations was better - it reminded me of the first few days of university, when about four of us would, in turn, casually bring up increasingly obscure bands in the assumption we would impress or intimidate the others, and, essentially, win. (But it turned out we had all heard of the same stuff - on account of listening to the same radio shows and reading the same publications, there being a narrow range available in the 90s - and those who hadn't, didn't care anyway). It is interesting, and perhaps quite unusual in male-authored classic fiction of this age, that it is the women of the two couples who are more educated and knowledgeable, with the men either somewhat dullards, or with talents in other areas - such as soldiering, if certain things are to be taken at face value, which it seems almost nothing should be in this novel. Though once it got to Part Two, the details about places visited associated with King Ludwig or Martin Luther (during the two couples' holidays at Nauheim, a German spa) began to peter out, in favour of more interpersonal drama and tales of imperial voyages back and forth between England and India. (In The Good Soldier, unlike in, for example, many Dickens novels, the existence of Empire is explicit* - and to an extent it's even shown how it contributes to the wealth of the British upper class: the Ashburnhams go to India for several years to save money, renting out their Hampshire country house, and do very well out of it.) And I kept thinking about how I just couldn't bring myself to care about these characters. I've already read too many of these affair novels about well-connected people. I started getting bored with them around 2005. (When Zadie Smith's On Beauty was published.) The Good Soldier was a novelty as an English novel in 1915: Ford was inspired by 19th century Continental novels of adultery; and shortly after the time of publication, a friend of his described it as "the best French novel in English" (in Bradshaw's intro). But any such sense of fascinating novelty has long worn off this plotline qua plotline, it having become such a commonplace of English literary fiction in the second half of the 20th century. I only find this sort of story of relationship awfulness engaging if it's a friend who needs listening and support, or during one of those fleeting compulsions to read about some celebrity scandal. I was really glad of the attention in David Bradshaw's introduction to discrepancies and minutiae of the narrative - it made for much less work during the actual reading process, as it seemed that more points than not had already been mentioned there. If you want a detailed analysis of the issues with John Dowell's exhaustingly contradictory narrative, and debates about whether or not and why they were intentional on the part of the author, just look there. (The only instance that interested me which wasn't analysed there was that Dowell, an American Quaker, knew Catholic liturgy very well well - there was no mention of his attending church regularly with the Catholic characters, the only way he might have picked it up - and quoted the King James Bible.) Bradshaw's suggestion that Dowell has a secret crush on Edward Ashburnham also went a long way to make the novel more entertaining. Dawdling through the book, though frequently bored, I did find a few things interesting. There aren't many novels in which multiple characters mostly in their twenties and thirties have chronic health issues (weak hearts, without the specificities of late 20th-early 21st century diagnoses). They are rich - not just reasonably well-off, but rich - which obviously makes things somewhat easier for them, as not only can they easily afford not to work, but it's the norm for their class anyway. Though in the 1900s-1910s there was a very limited amount that could be done to help, or to check what was wrong, however much money you had. It's interesting (and in literary terms perhaps ahead of its time) for showing that such people want to try to live quite normal lives, and have interests and meanings in life other than their health, without making a big thing of this. It gets away from the angelic invalid trope of American novels such as Little Women and Pollyanna, by showing a variety of moral inclinations among the characters, and that women with these illnesses also have sex drives. There is insight about the problematic dynamics of caring relationships crossing over with romantic/marital relationships, and how different temperaments act. (It's something understood as very important in relevant sectors of work, such as disability and carer services, and psychology, but which seems practically invisible elsewhere.) Edward Ashburnham is one of these people who wants/needs a poor thing to take care of, and tends to be attracted on that basis - but, as is not uncommon, he has problems of his own; it was interesting and unusual to see this intertwined with aristocratic noblesse oblige. Meanwhile, Dowell seems to have ended up unwittingly in the role he calls "nurse-attendant", as he knew very little about Florence before they married (and latterly is unsure if she had the heart problem she thought/said she had inherited, because her uncle turned out, after death, not to have it himself). Yet despite having found the role burdensome, he seemingly can't help but repeat it towards the end of the novel. Perhaps because Ford was writing before theories such as codependence became popular, he shows more nuance and complication to these characters, and therefore a greater sense of realism, than might later authors who had case-study templates available. The litany of ways in which Edward Ashburnham was considered an exemplary man in the pre-First World War era - including not only military heroism, but compassion as a magistrate, and supporting his tenants in difficult times - indicate how, as some recent commentary shows (example), how Anglo-American popular culture's ideas of masculinity have narrowed in recent decades to be increasingly concentrated on aggression, achievement and physicality. Alongside Dowell, who describes himself several times as a 'nurse-attendant', on one occasion says Ashburnham used him as a listening ear "like a woman or a solicitor", and several times suggests he is not as much of a man (e.g. fainter) than some - there is a degree of gender-role reversal in the novel. Leonora's money management, arguably, can be related to other stereotypes of wives as killjoys, and it was already quite typical for working-class women to control the family purse-strings in some areas of Britain, but for an upper-class Edwardian woman to be the best manager of the estate and finances in a serious (not comic) novel, is perhaps unusual. (I daresay there were proportionally more in real life than in novels.) And as mentioned above, both Leonora and Florence are the more intellectual in their marriages; nowadays, more girls than boys are going to university, so not unusual in contemporary context- but around 1900-1910 it wasn't a cultural norm for upper-class women to be more educated and cultured than upper-class men. (Edward Ashburnham subscribes to that false dichtomy that one can't be both sporty/martial and intellectual, though he is a fan of "sentimental novels".) Towards the end of the book, what perhaps held my interest the most, and most nerdily, was to put all the mentioned sums of money through historical inflation calculators. These characters are, or are verging on, international super-rich. (The Dowells as a couple qualify as ultra-high net worth under the contemporary definition of $30m, although the Ashburnhams don't.) Florence is worth on her own $20m, her uncle left $38m, and Edward Ashburnham was worth about £11m. The largest amounts as they are written in the novel ($1.5m and $800 000) sound, to a UK reader in 2019, merely like the price of a nice big house in the South of England - still out of many people's reach, but not a stately home - and therefore it's easy not to notice how rich the characters actually were. Did it require an American narrator to talk about such large sums of money so frequently, because it would have been too vulgar for a Brit? To convert the amounts to current monetary value emphasised both how far removed from normal life the characters must have been, and that the novel is set at the tail end of the Gilded Age. All of the five main characters had feelings or behaviours that I could connect with at times, or which reminded me of people I knew - often very well described. Occasionally, there were some great metaphors for relatively mundane things - "so this is why it's a classic" moments. A couple of favourites: -"a tune in which major notes with their cheerful insistence wavered and melted into minor sounds, as, beneath a bridge, the high-lights on dark waters melt and waver and disappear into black depths." -"I would grumble like a stockbroker whose conversations over the telephone are incommoded by the ringing of bells from a city church". (Especially by beeing in the first person, this reminded me of being unable to concentrate on reading because of the loud calling of cuckoos, a declining species.) It wasn't immediately obvious why The Good Soldier is a modernist novel, as it's a type of narrative that's common today - unreliable narrator, conversational style. But compared with many classic 19th century British novels, it is a radical departure: Dowell's admissions of confusion, the probably-intentional errors of fact (which shakiness could be seen as heralding the beginning of the end of Empire and of the cultural impact of WWI); the doubling back in conversation to things forgotten, an un-English, very non-U degree of romantic melodrama. (Though the last two also resemble 18th century epistolary bestseller Pamela.) Melodrama is easily dismissed by those with comfortable, predictable lives, which is why it has been out of favour with the critical establishment in the West for decades - but here are people with materially comfortable lives doing melodrama. There is a lot going on that's interesting in The Good Soldier, yet it wasn't enough to grant me enthusiasm for the characters and their world, and, although I had the time and energy to finish this short book considerably more quickly, it ended up taking me over two weeks because I just wasn't interested enough to read about them for long stretches of time. * A tangent from this quotation from Gayatri Spivak: "It should not be possible to read 19th-century British literature without remembering that imperialism, understood as England’s social mission, was a crucial part of the cultural representation of England to the English” - and a recent Twitter thread by US literature prof Manu Samriti Chander. The painting on the cover of this edition is a detail from La Visite by Félix Valloton (1899).

  15. 5 out of 5

    Shane

    This is indeed a sad story, where no one gets what they want. Based on a true story and revolving around two couples, one English the other American, and narrated by the American husband, this novel is told in an experimental style. When I mean told, there is very little dialogue and most of the incidents come out in dribs and drabs, out of sequence, and from a rather unreliable narrator who constantly contradicts his statements. The narrator goes over old ground frequently, mostly trying to This is indeed a sad story, where no one gets what they want. Based on a true story and revolving around two couples, one English the other American, and narrated by the American husband, this novel is told in an experimental style. When I mean told, there is very little dialogue and most of the incidents come out in dribs and drabs, out of sequence, and from a rather unreliable narrator who constantly contradicts his statements. The narrator goes over old ground frequently, mostly trying to reconcile events in his own head, expanding on an already recounted incident or reversing it. A jumbled picture emerges, both of the characters and the storyline. The plot is thin: the English wife is frigid and the American wife has a weak heart. Consequently both marriages have not been consummated. The English wife, a Catholic, is content to preserve her husband’s peccadilloes, covering them up, paying blackmail and helping to cut their losses by running the family finances frugally. The American husband is rich, has never worked in his life, is a bit of a dullard yet is content to protect his fragile wife and her health. However, the American wife and the English husband are having an affair and cheating on their partners in the meantime. All are well meaning individuals and are bound by the conventions of their cultural and social standing. It does not require much imagination to figure out the tragic ending. I suppose the author was experimenting with a new style and he achieves it with this novel, for it takes concentration to read and unravel the various story threads from the messy tangle in which they are presented. Is it a style I prefer? No. I can understand why Madox Ford complained bitterly that although he was Hemingway’s senior and mentor and was responsible for 80plus books and the founding of two noteworthy literary journals that gave debuts to well known writers such as Wyndham Lewis and D.H. Lawrence, he never achieved the recognition he was due. Experimental forms are always going to take place, but to be successful they need to strike a chord with readers. This book unfortunately did not strike any with me. Madox Ford is left praising his own novel in the long dedicatory letter to his wife that prefaces this book, in which he refers to The Good Soldier being “the finest novel in the English language” more than a couple of times in more than a couple of indirect ways. I beg to differ.

  16. 4 out of 5

    knig

    Why is this titled the Good Soldier? Edward was a soldier, for a spell. Edward of the nefarious quadratic epicentre where, after the music stopped everyone sat on the wrong chair. Is narrator John Dowell (where only Dowell seems to appear in the text and you have to read FMFs intro to gather it was prefixed by a John, a man insignificant enough to not have a name?) in love with him? And did said John ever consummate his twelve year marriage to Florence? And, do lets dig some more dirt: did Why is this titled ‘the Good Soldier’? Edward was a soldier, for a spell. Edward of the nefarious quadratic epicentre where, after the music stopped everyone sat on the wrong chair. Is narrator John Dowell (where only Dowell seems to appear in the text and you have to read FMF’s intro to gather it was prefixed by a John, a man insignificant enough to not have a name?) in love with him? And did said John ever consummate his twelve year marriage to Florence? And, do lets dig some more dirt: did Edward ever consummate HIS marriage to Leonora? I ask because apparently as late as 1918 people didn’t know how babies were made. Yup. Mary Stopes had to spell it out in a 1918 publication of ‘Married Life’. So it might shed some light as to why Leonora and Edward had no issue, but later on, give her a wink and a nod in the haystack with Rodney Bayham and hey presto, the buns in the oven. So thats the infamous quartet: Leonora and Edward, John and Florence. Everybody is shagging everybody else apart from the people they’re supposed to be shagging. Except maybe John, actually, who isn’t shagging anyone. Well, thats understandable. The thing is, you can’t shag and write. Its either one or the other. Mutually exclusive sort of thing. As in, if you’re out putting it about, then you’re not in writing it out. We know this from the fringe-alised narrator in Sophie’s Choice, or the Great Gatsby, or anywhere else where we have the Fringe Hero (umm, trademark?) holding the margins whilst the less loquacious but more virile specimens of humanity battle it out in delicto flagrante. So it goes. If you’re here reading and not out shagging, you know which camp you’re in . ‘Nuff said. But even so, how can John Dowell NOT shag for the 15 years or so over the span of this story? Because he is a Malesub. He likes to Man Friday it about. The bloke is a nurse to his wife for 12 years: don’t tell me he didn’t felch it once in a while, wittingly or not. What does he do then? Move on to nursing a Nancy. Who has a brain like a swiss cheese, but is femmedom between the lines. Of his brain. The rest? Trapped like a hare in headlights. Nowhere to go. Imprisoned within the confines of their own minds: minds which create worlds and prisons and mores to bind and break: just like the proverbial story of the elephant who was chained for so long to a tree, that when he was finally let loose he never strayed from that tree til he died: he had, effectively, become his own judge, jury and executor. Its a quirk that you shrivel when all you’re ever doing is what you’re supposed to be doing rather than what you want to be doing. But prolly necessary. Where would we ALL be if 90% of us weren’t preprogrammed Borg drones, keeping the Hive going. .......................................................... Sheesh, let me not forget how FMX fucks fiddles fuck time. Normally I hate contrived shenanigans, as in The Time Travellers Wife. Don’t get me started on Dr Who. But FMX, he is a time line Titan.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Victoria Young

    The Good Soldier is an amazing feat of plot construction. This is the best example of how an unreliable narrator (John Dowell) and fragmentary plot can be used to reveal intricacies of character that could never be as effectively expressed through simple description. Not only is this brilliantly done, but I was amazed to realise how early a piece of modernist work The Good Soldier is- published in 1915. It must have created quite a stir when it was published as its main interest is the The Good Soldier is an amazing feat of plot construction. This is the best example of how an unreliable narrator (John Dowell) and fragmentary plot can be used to reveal intricacies of character that could never be as effectively expressed through simple description. Not only is this brilliantly done, but I was amazed to realise how early a piece of modernist work The Good Soldier is- published in 1915. It must have created quite a stir when it was published as its main interest is the destructive potential of manipulation and infidelity. It's definitely not a book you should pick up if you're looking for a quick, easy read. The narrator's constant unconscious revisions of plot and characterisation had me flicking back and forth quite a bit and I'll probably need to reread in order to properly digest the complicated tangle of relationships. But the pay off for your hard work is a really thorough examination of the protagonist's psyche and cognitive dissonance. In a paradoxical way, Ford makes his narrative and characteristion wholly unclear in order that Dowell's state of mind be more fully revealed. When I was starting the book, I was quite annoyed because it seemed like the Dowell had given the game away and spoiled the ending by jumping too far forward in time. However- be not disheartened!- there are two rather excellent plot developments unfolded right at the end which are the real source of dramatic tension in the novel and make for a very poignant conclusion.

  18. 4 out of 5

    James

    Some questions arise when reading The Good Soldier. Is it an impressionistic masterpiece? Is it a tragedy or a comedy? Published in 1915, from the pen of Ford Madox Ford, it is unique enough to have been described by its critics as all of the preceding and more. Subtitled "A Tale of Passion", it is unique both in my experience and within the author's total work. The story is narrated by an American, John Dowell, who invites the reader to sit down with him beside the fire of his study to listen Some questions arise when reading The Good Soldier. Is it an impressionistic masterpiece? Is it a tragedy or a comedy? Published in 1915, from the pen of Ford Madox Ford, it is unique enough to have been described by its critics as all of the preceding and more. Subtitled "A Tale of Passion", it is unique both in my experience and within the author's total work. The story is narrated by an American, John Dowell, who invites the reader to sit down with him beside the fire of his study to listen to the "saddest story" he has ever known. Set during the decade preceding the Great War, the story, while appearing to be sad for some of the participants, is truly sad only in the ironic sense of the word. Thus we encounter one of the themes of the book--the distinction between appearance and reality. The characters are not particularly likable or sympathetic. Considering that, it is counter intuitive, but the reader is spurred on to read the novel by the precision and the beauty of the prose and the intrigue within the story. The narrative unfolds in a mosaic-like way with a traversal of the narrator's memory back and forth over the nine year period that is covered. The mosaic is interlaced by motifs including the importance of the date: August 4, and the apparent existence of a heart condition in some of the character's lives. I mentioned the narrator's memory, but one experiences a growing realization that the narrator is inherently unreliable; perhaps John Dowell is the most unreliable narrator in literary history--so much so that I cannot help but think that Ford may have been influenced by Leo Tolstoy's philosophy of history. When complete, the tale is ended perfectly much as it begins. The result is a beautiful small novel that ranks high in this reader's experience. When a book improves with each rereading some call it great or a classic. My personal term is transcendent, as the books for which I have experienced this effect embody transcendence on one or more levels of reading. The Good Soldier is one such book for me.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kristy K

    I imagine this book would have been very scandalous for its time. Our narrator, John Dowell, tells the tale of his and his wifes friendship with the Ashburnhams and the subsequent affair between his wife and Edward A. He goes on to talk about many of Edwards dalliances and you get the feeling John at times envies Edward. While there is some tragedy, on a whole this book reads with lots of dry humor and naïveté. I imagine this book would have been very scandalous for its time. Our narrator, John Dowell, tells the tale of his and his wife’s friendship with the Ashburnhams and the subsequent affair between his wife and Edward A. He goes on to talk about many of Edward’s dalliances and you get the feeling John at times envies Edward. While there is some tragedy, on a whole this book reads with lots of dry humor and naïveté.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jesse

    Lots of books (novels and otherwise) attempt to mix the chilling and the blasé for that extra-cold "banality of evil" effect. Among novels, American Psycho comes to mind as a possible least-favorite and The Good Soldier as a certain favorite. It would be too much to call any of these characters "evil" but as you ponder who among the morally vacuous cast is the "worst", you'll discover that your gaze turns inward, which is Ford's real achievement here.

  21. 5 out of 5

    David

    The evidence that I am a complete Philistine continues to accumulate, as yet another acknowledged classic sails right over my head. I did not like "The Good Soldier", for various reasons. Here are a few: # The plot was an awkward mixture of implausible contrivance and overwrought melodrama, and seemed fundamentally not credible, from start to finish. The basic setup (Serial philanderer Edward cheats on controlling Leonora and cavorts with Florence, the slutty wife of the book's narrator John) was The evidence that I am a complete Philistine continues to accumulate, as yet another acknowledged classic sails right over my head. I did not like "The Good Soldier", for various reasons. Here are a few: # The plot was an awkward mixture of implausible contrivance and overwrought melodrama, and seemed fundamentally not credible, from start to finish. The basic setup (Serial philanderer Edward cheats on controlling Leonora and cavorts with Florence, the slutty wife of the book's narrator John) was OK - this kind of love quadrangle is hardly unusual. But the way the plot unfolds from the basic premise seemed ludicrous, even allowing for the fact that the account of events is being delivered as the recollections of possibly one of the most unreliable narrators in all of 20th century fiction. The plot was little more than a series of random, largely implausible events, lurching from one improbable crisis to the next. Prussic acid capsules in the vanity case? Suicide by penknife? Telegram-induced catatonia? Give me a break. # The silliness of the plot had a lot to do with the complete lack of depth of the protagonists. You never get the feeling that any of these characters are real people, so their weird antics never seem like anything other than the jerky behavior of cartoonish puppets. Though most puppets have more character than these annoying stick figures. The most annoying of the stick figures being, hands down, the idiot narrator, John Dowell. A man allegedly so stupid that he doesn't notice his wife is cuckolding him with his best friend and hero for 8 years . Or that her "heart condition" is pure invention and that she's healthy as a horse. Who is apparently the only person on the planet unaware that she committed suicide by ingesting prussic acid. There was an enormous sense of relief upon finishing the book, because at least one didn't have to suffer the idiocies of the obtuse narrator any longer. (Dowell wasn't just idiotic; he was also completely without charm, probably a virgin, and likely a closet case) # My final objection to the book was the profusion of passages like this one: And, proud and happy in the thought that Edward loved her, and that she loved him, she did not even listen to what Leonora said. It appeared to her that it was Leonora's business to save her husband's body; she, Nancy, possessed his soul--a precious thing that she would shield and bear away up in her arms--as if Leonora were a hungry dog, trying to spring up at a lamb that she was carrying. Yes, she felt as if Edward's love were a precious lamb that she were bearing away from a cruel and predatory beast. For, at that time, Leonora appeared to her as a cruel and predatory beast. Leonora, Leonora with her hunger, with her cruelty had driven Edward to madness. He must be sheltered by his love for her and by her love--her love from a great distance and unspoken, enveloping him, surrounding him, upholding him; by her voice speaking from Glasgow, saying that she loved, that she adored, that she passed no moment without longing, loving, quivering at the thought of him. Between this book and "Mr Peanut", it's been a bad month for marriage. But at least "Mr Peanut" was interesting. For me, "The Good Soldier" was kind of a snooze. #

  22. 4 out of 5

    Cphe

    I read Parades End last year and really enjoyed it, Rather expected this to be in a similar vein so was a bit taken aback on reading. Strangely enough it's not a war story but is about an American and English couple whose lives entwine over nine seasons in the early 1900's. I didn't mind so much the unreliable narrator Dowell as it happens, but I did have some trouble accepting his naivety towards his wife Florence. A story of unhappy, destructive, obtuse people who are tied to each other by I read Parades End last year and really enjoyed it, Rather expected this to be in a similar vein so was a bit taken aback on reading. Strangely enough it's not a war story but is about an American and English couple whose lives entwine over nine seasons in the early 1900's. I didn't mind so much the unreliable narrator Dowell as it happens, but I did have some trouble accepting his naivety towards his wife Florence. A story of unhappy, destructive, obtuse people who are tied to each other by religion, appearance and the society they inhabit. I didn't like the characters on offer here but they were strangely magnetic in their own twisted perverse way. Well written, strangely mesmerising.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    Reading Hemingway's A Moveable Feast brought me back to Ford, an author whose most well known piece of fiction has been on my perpetual "to read" list. Hemingway's less than flattering portrayal of Ford was the tipping point, and I finally decided to read this novel while Papa's well depicted portrait of Ford was fresh in my head. After the first 50 pages I was convinced that I had read this story. Tropes tried-and-true seemed to drip from the pages; I found myself sighing and noting frequently Reading Hemingway's A Moveable Feast brought me back to Ford, an author whose most well known piece of fiction has been on my perpetual "to read" list. Hemingway's less than flattering portrayal of Ford was the tipping point, and I finally decided to read this novel while Papa's well depicted portrait of Ford was fresh in my head. After the first 50 pages I was convinced that I had read this story. Tropes tried-and-true seemed to drip from the pages; I found myself sighing and noting frequently how much of the book I had left. But then things changed. And the narrative took a completely different course; characters that were paint-by-number a chapter ago suddenly bloomed in unexpected ways. Ford had me on the rod for the sucker I was, and when he pulled the line, the hook set and the next 150 pages were amazing. But there came a point in the story, and I don't want to even talk about the action of the book for fear of giving away ANYTHING - there came a point where I just wished that the book had ended. Like The Sheltering Sky, I felt that I had experienced the penultimate part of the narrative somewhere way before the ending, and was shocked that there was more to read. The last 1/2 (or so) of the book isn't bad, it's just ... unfortunate additional parts of the character's stories that, while completing their lives, detracted from what I loved about the first half of the book. Had the novel ended at that "Part", and if you read - or have read - this book, you'll know of what I speak, this book would have been 5-stars without a doubt. In any event, I can still recommend it without hesitation and understand more fully why it is considered a literary classic. Despite Hemingway's comments about Ford's halitosis and annoying habits...

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jan-Maat

    Tale of the breakdown of relationships that I read roundabout the age of seventeen. What I found remarkable was the narrative style that cleverly pulls your sympathies from one character to another. Very effective piece of writing. Ford Madox Ford was an admired but commercially unsuccessful writer and much of his work is sadly out of print, worth hunting down though.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Sandy

    Ford Madox Ford has had three hours of my precious "listening-to-Librivox" time and he won't be getting a minute more. After having heard about one-third of this book, I began to suspect that the narrator - and maybe also the author - was full of the proverbial "BS". I have known people who tell convoluted, confusing tales like this. Yes, they do exist. No doubt you know at least one of the species too. Why do they do it? My theory is that there is a perverse sense of power in stealing the Ford Madox Ford has had three hours of my precious "listening-to-Librivox" time and he won't be getting a minute more. After having heard about one-third of this book, I began to suspect that the narrator - and maybe also the author - was full of the proverbial "BS". I have known people who tell convoluted, confusing tales like this. Yes, they do exist. No doubt you know at least one of the species too. Why do they do it? My theory is that there is a perverse sense of power in stealing the listener's time with this kind of garble. What a lark, isn't it - to actually hold the attention, and waste the time, of another person with this sort of nonsense? Wherein is the thrill? - in deceiving the listener. What is the payoff? - the boost to one's ego - the little voice that says, "Hah! What a sucker! They believed me." Well, sorry, Mr. Ford (or whatever your real name is), I am not willing to stroke your puny mixed-up ego. Yes, I have read the reviews. Yes, I know that technically the story is considered to be a masterpiece. Yes, I know that "not loving" a celebrated novel by a celebrated writer lands me squarely in the camp of the uncouth and uneducated. So be it! I could not live long enough to believe that listening to a seven-and-a-half-hour soap opera is time well-spent. Neither Dowell nor his self-absorbed, loafing companions gets any sympathy from me. While the rest of the world is stewing about the political events leading to the outbreak of the Great War, they are lolling about Europe, taking cures at spas, smoking cigars, and munching on caviar, pretending to be fast friends, and all the while deceiving each other and themselves. Yada yada yada. No rating, just a DNF - writ large!

  26. 5 out of 5

    Dillwynia Peter

    A daring title for the year it was published 1915 - for our male characters are anything but good soldiers. This novel seems to polarise readers into extreme love or hate. It also announced the Modern novel had arrived. It is not the simplest of reads and it doesnt take you long that something is very off kilter in the narrative. There arent that many surprises, you are told from an early time that most of the characters in the tale are dead. This is more how their actions may or may not have A daring title for the year it was published – 1915 - for our male characters are anything but good soldiers. This novel seems to polarise readers into extreme love or hate. It also announced the Modern novel had arrived. It is not the simplest of reads and it doesn’t take you long that something is very off kilter in the narrative. There aren’t that many surprises, you are told from an early time that most of the characters in the tale are dead. This is more how their actions may or may not have caused one or more of those deaths. And all through this our narrator comes across as the injured party with a huge Jesus complex (all forgiving), it doesn’t take long for the reader to become suspicious – and rightfully so. Are we being manipulated by our narrator? Is he a very unreliable narrator? This is the wonderful aspect of the novel – and one I loved. We return to known events, like constants or baselines, if you like, and they morph through the novel. Has he remembered new details? or is he a pathological liar? Is he mad? If so, how much is delusion? It makes a tantalising mind game for the reader. Progressing through the pages, what you do discover are these people are not very pleasant. You wouldn’t enjoy having a holiday with them. Everyone is manipulative – the Ashburnhams, the Dowells and the ward Nancy Rufford – and self-centred. Their aims are to get what they want, with no empathetic thought on the emotional cost. Leonora delights in her blackmail of her husband Edward over his previous affairs. And I do feel that our narrator likes milking his situation of being an emotional victim. Desire and lust within both men and women are another theme that is interesting and daring. A woman acting out on her sexual needs! It must have been a shock to some and seen as pornographic. Florence is delightful in being so manipulative. Is Edward that naïve in not seeing through his wife’s behaviour? At a time of the suffragette and the depiction that they are unwomanly, here we have two women in beautiful relationships being destructive. It definitely destroys the fiction of the meek loving woman that was bandy in the media. The fiction of the Victorian heroine is being deliberately unravelled and exposed for the hypocrisy that it was. The reaction, even now on Goodreads, of this novel is bipolar. I can understand this. It isn’t an easy book to read, as our narrator rambles, is repetitive and manipulates his reader. The very themes and style are what drew me in and gave me such enjoyment. It really is a book on the crest of change from the Victorian novel to the Modern novel. I can imagine people like the Bloomsbury set loving it, because it would have spoken to them, as it spoke to me. The characters are well imagined, and society traps these people into a nasty lie; a lie of a facade of respect, and duty to be married and be happy. It is hardly surprising that the four ruined lives would end in tragedy.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Roger Brunyate

    The Unreliable Narrator Last week* I reviewed Through the Window, a book of essays by Julian Barnes, including three on the Edwardian novelist Ford Madox Ford, an author I hadn't read and wasn't sure I wanted to. But Barnes' words on his most famous novel hooked me, so here I am: Looked at now, the novel barges its way into the modernist club for very different reasons: its immaculate use of a ditheringly unreliable narrator, its sophisticated disguise of true narrative behind a false facade of The Unreliable Narrator Last week* I reviewed Through the Window, a book of essays by Julian Barnes, including three on the Edwardian novelist Ford Madox Ford, an author I hadn't read and wasn't sure I wanted to. But Barnes' words on his most famous novel hooked me, so here I am: Looked at now, the novel barges its way into the modernist club for very different reasons: its immaculate use of a ditheringly unreliable narrator, its sophisticated disguise of true narrative behind a false facade of apparent narrative, its self-reflectingness, its deep duality about human motive, intention, and experience, and its sheer boldness as a project.Indeed. In this quite slim novel about two couples who spend their summers together at a German spa, nothing is quite as it seems, as the characters and their feelings are shuffled and redealt again and again. The normal processes of linear narrative and gradual revelation go out the window; this is a book where you know everything, but understand delightfully little. This is the saddest story I have ever heard. The famous opening line introduces what appears to be a typical Jamesian narrator, a wealthy American Anglophile who will spin us a tale from his leather armchair. But that "heard" is deceptive; so far from being disinterested, Dowell, the narrator and husband in one of the couples, is involved every inch of the way. But as he goes back over events again and again, seeking ways of reconciling facts with his own ignorance, contradicting himself not only between one section and another but often within a single sentence, he weaves a web of obfuscation and desire that has soon ensnared even him. Move on to the second sentence: We had known the Ashburnhams for nine seasons of the town of Nauheim with an extreme intimacy—or, rather with an acquaintanceship as loose and easy and yet as close as a good glove's with your hand. The simile is doubly striking: first, because it implies a world where gentlemen have their gloves hand-sewn to order; and second, because it introduces a sexual metaphor at odds with the propriety of Dowell's diction, but that will turn out to be entirely relevant. For within a few pages we learn what another novelist might keep to the end, that Captain Ashburnham, the Good Soldier and epitome of the English gentleman, has in fact been the lover of Dowell's invalid wife for the better part of nine years. I have, I am aware, told this story in a very rambling way so that it may be difficult for anyone to find their way through what may be a sort of maze. I cannot help it. Oh no? It slowly becomes clear that Dowell, the bumblingly inept storyteller, is quite conscious of what he is doing. Describing a sad farewell at a rural railway station, he throws in this casual line: The signal for the train's departure was a very bright red; that is about as passionate a statement as I can get into that scene. By giving away events long before they happen, he gives himself the right to come back to them again and again, adding detail, expanding the back-story, questioning motivation, showing things in an entirely different moral light. We soon get the idea of Ashburnham's philandering and his wife's forbearance; Florence Dowell's duplicity takes a little longer to emerge; but even so, we continue to reevaluate them as questions of religion and pedigree come into play. But Dowell keeps himself in the shadows. What sort of a husband is he? What keeps him looking up to Ashburnham no matter what he does? Is everything he says even true? This awkwardly proper, but quite unreliable, narrator is as fascinating as they come. *January 2013, on Amazon; review transferred to Goodreads.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Proustitute

    I have, I am aware, told this story in a very rambling way so that it may be difficult for anyone to find their path through what may be a sort of maze. I cannot help it. I have stuck to my idea of being in a country cottage with a silent listener, hearing between the gusts of the wind and amidst the noises of the distant sea, the story as it comes. And, when one discusses an affaira long, sad affairone goes back, one goes forward. One remembers points that one has forgotten and one explains I have, I am aware, told this story in a very rambling way so that it may be difficult for anyone to find their path through what may be a sort of maze. I cannot help it. I have stuck to my idea of being in a country cottage with a silent listener, hearing between the gusts of the wind and amidst the noises of the distant sea, the story as it comes. And, when one discusses an affair—a long, sad affair—one goes back, one goes forward. One remembers points that one has forgotten and one explains them all the more minutely since one recognises that one has forgotten to mention them in their proper places and that one may have given, by omitting them, a false impression. I console myself with thinking that this is a real story and that, after all, real stories are probably told best in the way a person telling a story would tell them. They will then seem most real.

  29. 4 out of 5

    David

    "The Good Soldier" is a southern European opera masquerading as Fitzgerald's "Tender is the Night". It's that nuts. I have no idea what these people think they are doing. Isn't it supposed to be the twentieth century? Aren't most of them supposed to be English? (America is represented by an effete narrator and his slutty wife.) I was reminded of something Junichiro Tanizaki had someone think in "Some Prefer Nettles": "Surely, he may say to himself, the problem, no matter what strong emotions it "The Good Soldier" is a southern European opera masquerading as Fitzgerald's "Tender is the Night". It's that nuts. I have no idea what these people think they are doing. Isn't it supposed to be the twentieth century? Aren't most of them supposed to be English? (America is represented by an effete narrator and his slutty wife.) I was reminded of something Junichiro Tanizaki had someone think in "Some Prefer Nettles": "Surely, he may say to himself, the problem, no matter what strong emotions it stirs up, can be taken care of with less grimacing, less twisting of the lips and contorting of the features, less writhing and straining towards the skies. If in fact it cannot be expressed in less emphatic and dramatic terms, then our Tokyo man is more inclined to turn it off with a joke than try to express it at all." Although there are plenty of laughs, no one in "The Good Soldier" seems to try and "turn it off with a joke". They dash around, threaten each other, sob and kill themselves. John Dowell, our narrator, says: "You may think that I had been singularly lacking in suspiciousness; you may consider me even to have been an imbecile." Yes, exactly. Are we 100% sure he wasn't banging his wife's boyfriends? This would seem to account for a feigned disinterest in her sex life. He says at one point: "If I had the courage and the virility and possibly also the physique of Edward Ashburnham I should, I fancy, have done much what he did. He seems to me like a large elder brother who took me out on several excursions and did many dashing things whilst I just watched him robbing the orchards from a distance." Merely bromance? Frenemies with benefits? Is our unreliable narrator keeping something from us? Regardless, "The Good Soldier" is absolute madness at every turn. Why on earth would Leonora post that letter to Miss Hurlbird? Do we really believe that Florence watched them in the garden for all that time? An officer in the British Army doesn't know how children are conceived? An educated young woman reads three newspaper articles about a divorce case and still has no understanding of the word "divorce"? Sheer madness. "Mental is the Night". But it certainly isn't "The Saddest Story" because a) I spent most of the time laughing, and b) working class people were dying in coal mines just so that these bastards could move their various heart complaints around the railway network of Europe. Absolute shits, the lot of them. "Oh, where are all the bright, happy, innocent beings in the world? Where's happiness? One reads of it in books!" declares Leonora ... I don't think Leonora and I are reading the same books. The books I read are about why we should all stab ourselves to death with small penknives. "Have you ever seen a retriever dashing in play after a greyhound? You see the two running over a green field, almost side by side, and suddenly the retriever makes a friendly snap at the other. And the greyhound simply isn't there. You haven't observed it quicken its speed or strain a limb; but there it is, just two yards in front of the retriever's muzzle. So it was with Florence and Leonora in matters of culture." "It is a thing, with all its accidents, that must be taken for granted, as, in a novel, or a biography, you must take it for granted that the characters have their meals with some regularity." "and then she wished she had not done it; but it did not teach her anything and it lessened such esteem as she had for him."

  30. 5 out of 5

    Nathan "N.R." Gaddis

    Yes definitely one to read again.

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