©1979 Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.; (P)1986 Recorded Books, LLC
The original title of the book was "the saddest story," and it is. It is a classic of early 20th century English literature, ahead of its time in its shifting back and forth in time and in the use of what is known as an "unreliable narrator" as the story is told in the first person by someone who only gradually realizes that most of what he had believed about his life is false. It lends itself very well to be read, as the narrator says he will write this as if he is telling it to someone else, and this narrator was, I thought, excellent. It is a bleak look at personal relationships that, on the surface, appear normal but are not at all what they seem.
One of the great English novels. Bridges the gap between the Victorian world and modernism. Don't let that academic-speak put you off: this is a powerful piece of writing that's as accessible as it is artful.
My interests run to psychology, popular science, history, world literature, and occasionally something fun like Jasper Fforde. It seems like the only free time I have for reading these days is when I'm in the car so I am extremely grateful for audio books. I started off reading just the contemporary stuff that I was determined not to clutter up my already stuffed bookcases with. And now audio is probably 90% of my "reading" matter.
The narrator begins by alluding to heart problems that allegedly run in his wife's family, but the novel is concerned with a very different kind of heart problem. And that distinction sets the tone for our hapless narrator destined to be deceived by those closest to him. The structure of this novel is deceptively conversational. Ford even alludes to this conversational storytelling style, but make no mistake: every digression and flashback is calculated to serve the author's purpose.
The reading is brilliant here as Frank Muller captures the tone of the narrator who is removed from all the drama going on around him, who may or may not have been too stupid to notice, or simply may not have been involved enough in his own life, or may be something else. I assumed the title referred to Captain Ashburnham, but now I'm not so sure. It seems to be at least as apt a description for the narrator.
The narrator keeps referring to this as the "saddest story." It is indeed sad in a sorry sort of way. These characters are their own worst enemies. Ford does an outstanding job of showing how these people, lacking any real purpose in their lives but having money to burn, still manage to ruin what should have been a carefree existence. Would you and I do better if we had their resources and the ability to live life unfettered by worries and responsibilities? I guess Ford is saying that without real worries and responsibilities, human nature will force us to invent imaginary ones.
So here we have a lost generation before Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Here we have a noir long before the movie genre was popularized. And here we have existential despair long before Sartre. Ford was amazingly prescient at showing the spiritual malaise that would inform the 20th century.
The Good Soldier is a well told story of a man who discovers a deception. The deception is revealed in a layered manner, realistic in its treatment of its characters. It is very similar in style to Lawrence Durrell, although it is far more accessible than the Alexandria Quartet.
The Good Soldier is not for everyone; certainly not for someone looking for passive listening entertainment.
This was perhaps one of the worst books I've ever read....yet.... It was the worst, because, I think at some level I like to like at least some character in a book I read....or at least relate to them. Every character in this book was detestable. The narrator was one of the most pathetic creatures in all of literature. This was a tragedy, only in the American sense of the word...not in the Greek sense...for there wasn't an ounce of hubris. They say pride goeth before the fall....this was just the fall.
So why did I give it 3 stars, instead of one. This book was incredibly well written....and way ahead of it's time in narrative. The narrator rambles unbelievably...I would say he is one of the worst story tellers....but through him, Mr. Ford shows himself to be one of the best. He reminded me of the "idiot" from Faukner's The Sound and the Fury, or the way things unfolded in the movie Memento. The story unfolds, so oddly, it is really quite incredible....and all of this after he has essentially told you the end of the book at the beginning....Yet the full import doesn't hit until later....and then it hits again...and again...and again.
The story was totally depressing...the characters, totally without redeeming qualities....what happens...pretty awful....yet somehow the art of telling this story...was quite a sight to behold....or listen too.
Before when I talked about the Narrator, I meant the character in the story who tells the entire story. The narrator of this book, Mr. Frank Muller, was quite outstanding. I hated him....he had a smarmy aristocratic condescending tone....which exactly matched the character who narrates the book! His voice, his attitude, his intonation, was perfect for this book.
So basically it was a perfectly told story that I happened to hate, yet will probably not forget for some time to come.
Business Physicist and Astronomer
The Good Soldier is a book that might require several readings or listenings. I listened to sections over and over---and actually started from the beginning several times. Modernist writing requires this kind of effort from the reader If you are willing to make the effort, even enjoy making the effort, you'll have a true literary experience with this book.
It will make you uncomfortable. It's edgy. You'll see glimpses of the dark of yourself.
A good book, excellently written. You will alternately love and hate the characters and take sides and then turn on your hero and wind up perhaps not liking any or loving them all again at the end, who knows? That being said, while the skill in writing remains, the shock of stripping away the layers of proper English etiquette and society are probably somewhat lost. The modern reader won't be dropping their monacle in alarm that Ford Maddox Ford "went there", thinking "no he can't" or "he daren't" or that sort of thing. So a bit dated, but structurally adept and interesting. Well-narrated and you can do it in a day or certainly a week. Perhaps not brilliant, but intelligent and stirring. I would compare Ford I think to Virginia Woolf, who I like better, especially Mrs Dalloway, of similar size and length, and Faulkner, for the psychology aspect and the twists and the turns. For a deeper, darker, longer, more ferocious whirlwind, try "Absolom, Absolom!", one of my favorite books, if you don't think this will float your boat.
I am biased because I like this time period and can endure even some of the poorer books. This one was tough tough. This is very well-narrated, but is VERY hard to follow. I did not expect this stream-of-consciousness type story in a book so old. It gets tedious after a while. Like "Big Lights, Bright City," or others, it has a lot of interesting things going on, but no cohesive major story. Not to say that is a bad thing, but its not what I expected in this book. I got tripped up in the characters and who was doing what and why.
Even Frank Muller, the superb reader, could keep my interest in this book. It is just dated. My wife gave it to me because it was one of the few readings by Muller I had missed, and I could not get through it. Sorry.
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