3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Love is a battlefield,
This review is from: The Good Soldier (Kindle Edition)
Here's a book whose famous opening sentence ("This is the saddest story I have ever heard") draws the unwitting reader across the threshold into a baffling world of deception, contradiction, ignorance and horror. In fact - as has been pointed out by Julian Barnes in his essay on Ford in his latest collection - by the time the reader reaches the end of that simple phrase, the deception has already started. As becomes clear in the first few pages, the narrator didn't "hear" the story at all - he was a participant (albeit a mostly ignorant one) in it. This tiny clue (Barnes describes it as a "creak under the [reader's] foot") alerts us to the unreliability of the narrator, as he starts to tell the story of the Ashburnhams, an English couple which he and his wife met at a German spa town in the 1900's. Or rather, he doesn't start. As if being unreliable wasn't enough, he relates his tale in a nonlinear fashion: jumping in at the middle, relaying flashbacks out of sequence, leaving gaps in his story that the reader is supposed to fill in, even as the full realization of what happened to those two couples gradually emerges. It's a story which calls for an attentive reader, but there are many rewards as you try to unpick the narrator's contradictions - e.g.
"[I]t made her more hateful to him - and more worthy of respect"
"And she looked at him with her straight eyes of an unflinching cruelty and she said: 'I am ready to belong to you - to save your life.'"
"I think that it would have been better in the eyes of God if they had all attempted to gouge out each other's eyes with carving knives. But they were 'good people'."
He throws these up as he apparently tries to recall the details of the story (and occasionally expresses his frustrations in asides to the reader: "I have been casting back again; but I cannot help it. It is so difficult to keep all these people going.") In spite of these protests of his limitations, the result is a immensely subtle and finely-textured story which - when you look back on its uneven path - steadily and inexorably builds to a bloody climax which shows the painful ends of characters who are "drifting down life, like fireships afloat on a lagoon and causing miseries, heart-aches, agony of the mind and death".
[I read this story as a (freely available) download on my iPhone; previously, I've only used that medium for shorter pieces, but found that it was particularly well-suited to this novel because of the built-in ability to quickly search back through the text, highlight passages of interest (something I never do in a physical book) and look up definitions for unfamiliar words. I think these features made unpicking the puzzle of this story easier to do, and improved my understanding and appreciation of the author's work.]