I don’t know how I missed this book in my reading career, I possibly got it confused with another book, a war book, on the basis of the title. ? Anyway, it’s NOT about war in the general sense of the term, anyway
Taking place mostly in the south of France prior to WWI (and published in 1915) it’s about a two married couples, one English, one American, with complex relationships within their own marriages as well as between the two couples. Both of these couples look the part of ordinary and very staid and supposedly upper class (but not nobility) folks with some Irish elements – don’t let that fool you. Appearances are not what they seem.
The Good Soldier
by Ford Maddox Ford
1915 / 125 pages
read by Frank Muller – 6h 56m
rating: 9.25 / classic fiction
The story is told by John Dowell, an American, who is the husband of Florence, also American, and the lover of the Englishwoman, Leonora, who is the wife of Edward Ashburnham, a Captain in the military with past service in India and a land owner in England.
Checking Wikipedia, Maddox wanted to call this book “The Saddest Story,” but his publishers didn’t care for that although it pretty well describes the book; it certainly is sad, But there’s a lot more to it including an unreliable narrator and a nice dose of comic relief.
In many ways it’s based on the author’s own complicated love life, only with a huge amount of stereotyping along social, occupational, age, and religious lines and that’s deliberate because it turns against itself in the theme of people not being what they seem.
It was quite a shocker in its time – the reading public was just breaking out of their old Victorian era laces and starting to venture out into the modern one. Ford Maddox Ford was a frontrunner of the Modernists writing in a nonlinear style with a very self-conscious and unreliable narrator. Ford is said to have experimented with “impressionist fiction.”
On the other hand the main characters, except for Dowell himself, are very carefully drawn, detailed and pondered over. But it’s always through Dowell’s lens.
The plot is thick and, as mentioned, not at all linear – Dowell goes all over the place in flashbacks which are supposed to come together in the readers’ minds – and they do, eventually but sometimes it feels like you missed something. Dowell is a seriously unreliable in that we don’t know what is true and what is not. What he says in Part I does not match what he says later and everyone looks bad except him.