43 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clever-clever plotting, smooth writing, emotional wrench - a compulsive read.
This is a real page-turner with great storytelling and wonderful writing. It's an apparently simple story of a cuckolded husband but Maddox Ford tells and retells the same events from the point of view of each participant so that the reader's understandings and sympathies are constantly shifting as he begins to comprehend the complexities and motivations of those...
Published on 13 Nov. 2010 by Brownbear101
32 of 36 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The First Modern Narrator?
Ford Madox Ford, although a literary figure often undervalued, must stand alongside the lofty literary statures of giants such as James Joyce and Henry James. Much maligned in life, Ford reflects this in the novel "The Good Soldier" and creates, perhaps, the first modern narrator. Inconsistently and often unreliably, Ford's narrative tells a tale that,...
Published on 29 Oct. 1999
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not a book for me.........,
This review is from: The Good Soldier (Unabridged Start Publishing LLC) (Kindle Edition)
This was the most boring book I ever had the misfortune to encounter. It is quite a short book and I thought it would never end. Idle people with too much money and too much time on their hands. I honestly felt like saying 'get a life' or go and do some good in the world. One character in the book seemed to fall in love every other week. I actually lost count of all the lovers.
On a plus note: I studied this book at university as it was a course on 'Unreliable Narrators' if you need a book for this subject then Mr. Ford is your man, just don't expect a riveting read.
3.0 out of 5 stars Human shuttlecocks,
"This is the saddest story I have ever heard" is a somewhat off-putting opening sentence. It is hard to feel very sorry for snobbish, convention-bound people who feel hard up even when holding large estates, employing servants and swanning round foreign hotels, with the lack of any occupation to give them a sense of proportion.
At first, I was even more deterred by the style, the mannered, at times almost querulous tone which I would have expected from a Victorian spinster aunt, rather than from a character I could never quite believe was an American male. Just when I was wishing I did not need to read this for a book group, I was struck by the description of the "good soldier" Ashburnham's luggage: "the profusion of his cases, all of pigskin and stamped with his initials...It must have needed a whole herd of Gaderene swine to make up his outfit". Even if this novel is not intended to be a farce (which would have saved it for me), it surely includes some sharp notes of mocking parody.
First published in 1915, this tale of two "perfect" couples whose friendship over more than a decade masks a web of deception, hypocrisy and guilt, since they are unable to keep to the moral and religious conventions to which they feel bound, has been described as "the finest French novel in the English language" and is highly regarded by some as "stylistically perfect". I accept that it is an early example of "stream of consciousness" - of the well-punctuated variety - and what has been called "literary impressionism", as the author plays games with us through his distinctly unreliable first person narrator. In the midst of his self-confessed ramblings, the American provides us with some original, often vicious insights, belying his claimed lack of observation bordering on stupidity over what is really going on under his nose - although is he really as passive in the affair as he makes out? He shifts back and forth in time, revisiting scenes to peel off yet more layers to reveal that each incident was not quite as he implied or stated earlier, or to show how it might appear differently to the various characters concerned. Although he does this quite skilfully, providing a few unexpected shocks on the way, there is a good deal of repetition of details. A fairly thin story seems overlong, and the heavy emphasis on telling the reader at great length what to think - even if this gets contradicted at times - is less satisfying than the style we have come to prefer - showing events for us to draw differing conclusions.
Perhaps this is worth reading as an early twentieth century classic, but I cannot say I really enjoyed it. Arnold Bennet, who lived at the same time as Ford Madox Ford, creates for me a much more real past peopled with more convincing complex characters over whom it is easier to feel moved.
5.0 out of 5 stars Disturbing fiction,
I listen to book review programmes on Radio 4 and The Good Soldier was featured in one of them. It's a slim book but don't let that fool you - the thought that has gone into this is highly compressed. It starts off as the narrator's account of his and his wife's relationship with some very good friends, including the Good Soldier in the title. It's a rambling, realistic form of narration and, like any account of endless praise of someone I've never met, tended to wash over me.
As the pages and time go by, the account of the other three characters becomes darker - although the author himself is uncritical, your own critical faculties come into play and you start questioning the narrator's understanding and interpretation of events and his assessment of the characters. He is unreliable, but at least he tells you everything you need to know to come to your own conclusions.
It was initially hard to believe that such a carefully crafted, surgical analysis of the characters could have been written some 100 years ago, but I recognise that that's just my unjustified bias towards today's authors and a modern outlook. This book chimed with other books/authors, e.g.: Tim Krabbe for the condensed writing, George Eliot for human insight, Julian Barnes and The Sense of an Ending for the unreliable narration. If you like these, you may like The Good Soldier.
In the Wordsworth Classic edition there is a learned introduction which you can safely skip, and copious notes to explain the many cultural references in the text - suggest that you leave reading these to the end rather than interrup the flow of the narrative.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read it at least once a year,
This is one of the best novels of the last century, one of those small but immaculate masterpieces to stand beside "Heart of Darkness" and "The Great Gatsby". Ford wrote too much, certainly - I'm a big fan but I haven't been able to finish everything I've managed to find. When you've read this - for the first time - go to some of his (very unreliable) memoirs: "It Was The Nightingale", "Provence" etc. to get the flavour of the man. Then it will be time for the WWI tetralogy "Parade's End". Then you'll be ready to read "The Good Soldier" again...
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Book More Praised than Read?,
This review is from: The Good Soldier (Norton Critical Editions) (Paperback)
The Good Soldier, we are constantly being told, is an important, indeed a great book. There is talk of the unreliable narrator, the movement back & forth in time & from different people's perspectives, the exposure of the hypocrisy & sleaze hidden just under the surface of social respectability. These themes aren't new, of course, but here they are presented in an innovative, 'impressionistic' way. Or that is the intention; but for me it is not successful. And there seems to be little consensus even among commentators about what this achieves & how it achieves it.
What we end up with is an apparently well-intentioned chap spinning a yarn: he sees himself as sitting by the fireside recounting this story to an invisible companion (you) & this is very apt. If you have ever been trapped by someone bent on telling you every single detail of a story as it seems important to them, long-windedly going off at a tangent, losing their thread, mucking up the chronology by suddenly remembering something they forgot to say earlier....At least you might (if still awake) get a word in & say, "but I don't quite see....
But there is nobody to do that here. And so we are treated to a windy monologue, filled with asides, back-tracking, prejudices, rather tedious & irrelevant details & ridiculously unlikely scenarios.
As the account becomes more & more bogged down in all the extraneous detail the more confused & irritating it becomes. The prose is mannered & has at times a certain elegance but tends always towards the emotional, the melodramatic, the ornate, the gothic even. The narrator often reiterates ideas: "It was an extraordinary thing to say. Quite extraordinary."; " But what were they supposed to do? What in God's name were they supposed to do?".
And the narrative, the story itself, with people acting (like bad actors) in extreme intense ways culminating in the suicide & madness of various parties, is ludicrously gothics & unlikely: the noble, tormented, complicated chap drawing out his small penknife with a "direct, challenging, brow-beating glare..". And, when the narrator's wife puts her fingers on Ashburnham's hand there was something "evil in the day. It wasn't as if a snake had looked out of a hole.." (Sexual imagery? Clumsy imagery). But my point here is that while we may feel a tremor of unease when we have a tiny almost subconscious clue that something is badly amiss, before we have fully realised it, this dramatic description does not successfully evoke that unease.
Of course, in such scenarios as Ford creates people may be manipulative, or prey to extreme emotion, but his prose is at once too mannered, insufficiently subtle, & too melodramatic to convey that realistically. His treatment of his material, his 'impressionistic' style means that, for me at least, none of the characters (or events) seems real. Yes, people may be more complicated than we imagine, their behaviour hypocritical & interpretations subjective & unreliable, but this book does not make me feel that in a convincing way. Rather than being innovative, the overheated, gothic narrative seems very much of its time, or Victorian, even.
My own feeling is that Ford was largely writing about himself, in spite of his denials; he was a notorious philanderer & not universally admired. All the head-scratching about how, for example a man may be a pretty noble creature in spite of a few eccentricities, in spite of being a prolific adulterer & deceiver (which he can't help because he is a romantic, not a sexual predator); all that & his interpretation of women are desperately elaborate justifications for his own behaviour, so as to enable him to see himself as 'really' a good man, a 'good soldier'. The book is about, & dwells on sex & adultery, & more particularly the lust & fantasising the 'young girl' arouses in the men. Of course, it is not called lust, but is presented as a love almost noble...so long as it is not acted upon.
I found the treatment of sex, here especially but not only here, distasteful, unreal & in fact prurient.
Although some of them seem to waver, many scholars claim this book is a masterpiece; it is interesting, then, that they do not necessarily agree what makes it one.
Clearly there are people who enjoy the book & find meaning in it even. But for me was a hard & unrewarding slog through fairly unremarkable material. There were many innovative writers during this era but on the evidence of this book Ford is not among the best of them.
There is a great deal written about Ford's work being neglected, undervalued & so on for many years - until very recently. Perhaps there was a reason for this. Is it unduly cynical to suggest that publishers, casting round for something different (& cheap if a work is out of copyright), may release such books with a great deal of fanfare & with appreciative introductions....
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ford Madox Ford: so good they named him twice,
This review is from: The Good Soldier (Classic Fiction) (Audio CD)
Julian Barnes relates that when a guest at one of his dinner parties dared to criticise The Good Soldier he ejected him from the premises ('I four lettered him out of the house'.) Ford Madox Ford's greatest novel, subtitled 'a tale of passion', itself has passionate advocates. And while I'm not sure I would go to such extremes as Barnes in the book's defence, it is an extraordinarily interesting work.
Published in 1915, The Good Soldier tells the tale of two married couples in their thirties who meet by chance at a spa town in Germany. To outward appearance the couples are eminently respectable but it soon becomes clear that there is more than meets the eye. Each marriage conceals a complex web of infidelities, lies and rival loyalities.
There are some similarities with the world of E.M. Forster. Both writers deal with middle class England in the Edwardian era, and both are concerned with the desperate struggle to maintain respectability. They share a sense of the absurdity and comedy that often results from this constant effort, and well as its withering effects and the limits it places on human potential.
But Ford is much sharper, more acidic, than Forster and perhaps more interesting. There is no sense with Ford that a more rational and enlightened social code would on its own result in harmonious relations between men and women. The reasons for the unhappiness and failure of so many marriages lie deeper.
Technically, the book is a tour de force, with an apparently artless and bumbling narrator delivering a complex plot through a patchwork of episodes. He is sometimes said by commentators to be 'unreliable' although paradoxically his frequent professions of uncertainty and doubt add to his credibility. One sometimes feels that he may be deluded but rarely that he is deliberately misleading the reader.
The book is read splendidly in the Naxos audio version by the American Kerry Shale. Detecting irony is not a skill thought to be widely dispersed among the population of the United States, but Shale is fully alive to the novel's tonal shifts.
3.0 out of 5 stars I expected the book to be about WW1,
This review is from: The Good Soldier: A Tale of Passion (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
The person on the radio programme said the Good Soldier was one of the great works of fiction so I bought a copy. The back cover shows a comment by Julian Barnes about the book being a masterpiece and another note says the book was regularly referred to by Graham Greene. I realised after I had progressed a fair way through the book that it was more a romance than a war story. The first nine words of the book hinted otherwise. I like John Dowell as narrator, the flow of the writing, the vivid descriptions of the places and people so score the book four for these alone. Overall the ingredients were in the end a little limited but a good job had been made of mixing and cooking. I did persevere and read to the end although a friend I lent the book to gave up quite early on.
4.0 out of 5 stars Very Good!,
This is one of the better books I have read. I am new to Ford Madox Ford so was not sure what to expect. I read this before going for the much longer `Parade`s End` to which I was drawn by the recent BBC dramatisation. I found the way Ford writes in non-chronological order quite interesting (to my surprise), and realised toward the end that I was getting excited about the end of the story to which had already been alluded! Bravo! There is some really good observation in this book as to the nature of human relationships and love. It`s quite short so you know you are not going to be in it for the long haul should it not be to your taste! I will definately take a look at Parade`s End now.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Simple Tale?,
This review is from: The Good Soldier: A Tale of Passion (Oxford World's Classics) (Paperback)
This was one of those book on my list of books to read before I die and I had bought it a while ago, but only have just now got round to reading it. I can't believe that I have never read this before, because it is no doubt a masterpiece.
This book is considered rightly a 'problem novel', not because it is hard to read, in fact it is deceptively easy, but because we can never be sure of the veracity of the narrator. The basics of the plot are two couples, one English and one American, these four people seem to meet up for about a month each year. We come to see though that two of the persons are having a affair. This is supposedly written after the events but we can never be sure of what the narrator really knew beforehand, what he was told, and what he conjectured. At turns you feel sorry for this narrator and want to pat him on the back and offer your sympathies, at other times you want to wring his neck and tell him what a complete fool he is. As the story unfolds you are never really sure whether he is extremely naive or just doesn't care about his wife.
By also continually altering the time he is talking about you are also left to wonder what he really knew beforehand. It is this style that ultimately gives this book its power, taking us on a trip that is tragic, but at the same time quite comic. Ultimately though this raises the question, what do we really know about anyone else? A truly great read this would be ideal for reading groups as there is so much here to discuss. If you love a good captivating read that you can lose yourself in and makes you question what you are reading, then you can't really go wrong with this.
5.0 out of 5 stars The Good Soldier,
This is an absorbing story told in an innovative way as though the narrator is relating it, eye to eye, to the reader. As a result it deliberately rambles from time to time and the parts played by each of the protagonists in the tale drift out of time sync but are gently brought back into sync as the narrator continues. An interesting study of English pre-first world war upper class morality and values as viewed by a somewhat naive American who remains ignorant of the real situation almost to the end of the tale. The notes on the text can be a little distracting but many are very informative particularly, I would imagine, for a reader who is not familiar with British culture.
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The Good Soldier: A Tale of Passion (Penguin Modern Classics) by Ford Madox Ford (Paperback - 4 April 2002)
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