07 June 2008

30. Ford Madox Ford, THE GOOD SOLDIER

I'm beginning to think it's just as important to teach one's children, "Don't judge a book by its title," as the more classic adage. I found this book on Dailylit but nearly put it off because I thought it was a war story. One of the characters is a soldier ("good" is up for debate), but there are no military maneuvers in this book.

THE GOOD SOLDIER is one of those books where the narrator starts by saying, We had a great life -- what happened? Or in his words:
We were, if you will, one of those tall ships with the white sails upon a blue sea, one of those things that seem the proudest and the safest of all the beautiful and safe things that God has permitted the mind of men to frame. Where better could one take refuge? Where better?... I can't believe it's gone.
Meet John Dowell. John is an American who, at the start of the sad story he tells, is living in Nauheim, Germany with his wife Florence. John and his wife came over to Europe some years ago and have been living in Nauheim, a spa town, because he has been told Florence's heart is too weak to make the trip back across the Atlantic. At Nauheim they get to know another couple, Edward and Leonora Ashburnham -- Edward is a former army officer who is there getting treatment for his heart.

Or so John thinks. Because throughout the course of the book, John relates how many of his illusions were destroyed about his own marriage, his friends, and the shape of his very comfortable life. To begin with, his wife's heart condition may or may not be real, and his best friends' marriage is a mess because of how Edward, the "good soldier" of the title, behaves and the way his wife chooses to deal with it. Without giving too much away, the lovely foursome of the first chapter is completely smashed due to a series of tragic, but possibly inevitable, events.

This book sucked me in completely and almost immediately. I began trusting all these characters at their word and ended not really knowing if I could even trust the narrator John at all, but I read the last half of this book over about 3 days of hitting "receive the next installment immediately" because I was hanging on to their fates. (Also, some of the Dailylit installments ended in cliffhangers like, "Edward said gruffly:" and then what can you do except move forward? I ask you.) If you liked ATONEMENT but thought it got a little wordy at times, this book is right up your alley; if you are familiar with Fitzgerald, Ford is similar though working 20 years earlier than its closest cousin, TENDER IS THE NIGHT. And if you hate so-called classics where nothing happens, you will love this book, because a ton of stuff happens to characters you want to care about and chastize at the same time.

I definitely want to read more Ford Madox Ford after this, so I'm excited to see his book PARADE'S END is also on the Modern Library list (#57) -- and it's a tetralogy! Which normally would scare the crap out of me, but if it's half this good, bring it on.

Progress of LN VS. ML: 47 read, 53 unread.

Next up on Dailylit and LNVSML: Max Beerbohm's ZULEIKA DOBSON, OR, AN OXFORD LOVE STORY (#59) Having read the prologue, I can tell you the author pronounced it ZuLEEKa, not ZuLIKEa.

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