Most helpful positive review
44 of 47 people found the following review helpful
Clever-clever plotting, smooth writing, emotional wrench - a compulsive read.
on 13 November 2010
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 involved. Characters we thought we liked at the start become obnoxious and those we loathed are redeemed. It's clever not only because the ground constantly shifts under the reader's feet but also by the way the story is told - getting one of the characters to explain all the others. This has two effects, first, by avoiding the God narrator it legitimizes the fact that the reader doesn't understand everything at once, and secondly it makes the whole affair much more intimate and personal because these events are happening to the narrator who is our friend.
The story concerns two upper middle class couples who meet at a German spa at the turn of the 19th century and become good friends over many years. As the story unfolds it becomes clear that beneath their simple outings and picnics, sexual and emotional plate tectonics are at work. More and more is slowly revealed of what has been going on and the final pages are tragic and grim.
Much is made in literary circles of the fact that the narrator is unreliable and frequently contradicts himself or is plain wrong. This is a very neat device that covers up the fact that somehow the narrator has gotten to understand what everyone else in the story was thinking or feeling. His unreliability is really chaff to cover up this unlikely situation. Nonetheless it is well done and makes the tone and structure of the book enjoyable and unusual. In particular the narrator constantly time shifts the story backwards and forwards and fails to tell the reader some facts about events until later so that they appear mysterious and only later can be pieced together. If you enjoy detective fiction you should enjoy this.
At heart this is a desperate story of a group of people who set off in life and make a mess of it. Some are naïve, some manipulative, some loving, some hard-nosed, some living a full life and some just passing through. Which is which and who is whom the reader cannot understand until the end and the slow reveal is delightful, sad and horrific.