The Good Soldier

Narrated by: Frank Muller
Length: 6 hrs and 56 mins
4 out of 5 stars (153 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

On the face of it Captain Edward Ashburnham's life was unimpeachable. But behind the mask where passion seethes, the captain's "good" life was rotting away.
©1979 Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. (P)1986 Recorded Books, LLC

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Heart problems

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.

7 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Treachery in the Troops

The saddest story my aching arse....

Ford may have given readers the ultimate *unreliable narrator* in 1915 when he published The Good Soldier. For all of my reading, I don't recall ever coming across a narrator half as guileful, or as entitled, as John Dowell -- or is he so inconceivably dim-witted and naïve the story IS actually sad? There in lies the brilliant pinpoint on which this story is balanced, and masterfully so by author Ford Madox Ford. Though, there was the peer group of his day that would have taken to task anyone that thought the writer *masterful*, or anything other than *unreliable* himself. His own *wife* -- or should we say biga-mistress (seems Ford didn't have any problem *marrying* or carrying on affairs in spite of his legal marriage to another never being dissolved) wrote that Ford had "a genius for creating confusion," and he himself stated that,"he had a great contempt for fact." So, it is with that insight to this author that one should approach this story; this is the magic that turns just an OK story into absolute brilliant writing -- and a top notch mystery in disguise that requires an efficient reader.

A wealthy American couple, Dowell and Florence, and a wealthy English couple, Edward and Leonora meet at a spa during an extended stay in Europe and become friends. Interestingly, Dowell narrates the story directly to the reader/listener, as if it is a tale he was told, "the saddest story I've ever heard in my life." Immediately you assume he was told this story and is just now recounting it to the reader, but as he goes on we learn it is his wife Florence and the Englishman, Edward, that have an affair that leads to her heartbreaking death on her and Dowell's honeymoon.

Dowell's story continues to twist like a hanky wrenching out the tears. But, is it her reported weak heart that killed the young bride...(weak enough that she warns her new husband she is unable to have sex because of her condition) or is it suicide (her medicine bottle smells strongly similar to a particular acid)? So it goes... where nothing is as it first seems, nothing can be taken at face value. The outward grace, the breeding, the money, the passion, blend into a swirl of colors that lose definition and become a muddied mess. Even our narrator repeats often, "I don't know, I don't know!," sharing doubts as to his competence to recall what happened.

The profiles of these characters are intriguing; illuminated by Dowell's shaky perspective they become outrageous, even contrarily uncivilized, extravagant, and completely without principles. I could only conceive of this caliber of persons by reminding myself, "how reliable is this narrator/participant, what hidden agendas, sociopathic befuddlements contort the players and twist this supposedly sad tale?"

If you were a keen-eyed detective taking Dowell's testimony, you would listen carefully to this one...ignore your colleague's protests of his innocence...put a tail on him...watch for those insurance policies, secret bank accounts, more missing bodies of people he crossed paths with...sit back and wait for this Keyser Söze fellow to make a wrong move. Or; did poor Mr. Dowell just tell you, truly, the saddest story you've ever heard...? This is a classic that needs to be read competently to be truly appreciated. If so, you'll see The Good Soldier draws out the kind of reader participation, where the text is "open to the greatest variety of independent interpretation" -- what Barthes said was the *ideal text.* Gosh, what a masterpiece; if I wasn't so disgusted by the whole lot of them, I'd turn around and read this again, right now.




25 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • CB
  • 04-24-10

The saddest story

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.

10 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

A true classic

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.

Excellent reader.

12 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Convincing characters, a web of deceit

This is a book about a man trying to explain how his marriage turned out to be different from what he'd thought it would be. It's intriguing to listen to how he gradually comes to piece things together, and how he comes to understand another married couple that he and his wife are friends with. He is insightful and clueless at the same time, but you, the listener, will have no trouble sorting things out. The characters come across so clearly, that I could easily believe they are based on real life people. I'm not sure why, but the first half of the book seemed written in a very modern way (clear and frank), and the second half seemed more old-fashioned (more drenched in woe and hand-wringing, and dealing with matters of religion in the front-and-center way they used to). I liked the first half a little better, but it was all good. The narrator kept saying what a sad story it was - and it was sad - but I found it more intriguing than gloomy. It was far from sending me into an unsettled funk. In fact, a lot of people might find it useful information.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars

Like Driving by a Horrific Auto Accident

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.

14 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars

The real soldiering is getting through the book

Perhaps it was the time period but I having a difficult time getting into the stories written by early 20th century Brits and British Americans. Perhaps it's because they are recovering from the tedious oppressiveness of the Victorian era or because they were growing conscious of the decline of their empire that everything just comes across as overly calculated and embarrassing.

Not much in the way of soldiering goes on in the story. It seems that the publishers put pressure on Ford to add a martial appeal to the title as it was released in 1915 on the precipice of The Great War and The Saddest Story didn't come off as the kind of patriotic page turning British publishing houses were hoping to cash in on.
Although there are references to the British officer class particular to one main character and discussions of the economics advantages of serving in the the Boar War plagued South African station versus guerilla war plagued northern India posts, little actual soldiering was discussed. One interesting description of that age was the reality that many in the officer's class who may be of property at home often had such a difficult time managing their estates and tenants that they were required to live on their officer's pay in an environment where appearances required one to live above one's means in order to maintain social status. As horse and kit were required to be of the finest breed and brand, families were getting by with threadbare undergarments and carefully rationed meals between sumptuous dinner parties.

The book focuses on two couples, one British and one American, both of means who share space and trade spousal affections in a German spa that caters to the idle wealthy. In many ways, the characters share attributes with Fitzgerald's Diver family in "Tender is the Night" but in the years before the war rather Fitzgerald's post script. It seemed to be commonplace to diagnose wealthy Americans and Brits visiting the continent with life threatening illnesses that pose potential fatality with a homebound ocean crossing. Thus, many languished for years in upper class sanitariums and spas which promised to provide life saving therapies in opulent surroundings for those who could afford to pay for it. The years of idle pampering led to rampant and overwrought infidelities which serve as the device plot of the story.

I won't say that the sex lives of the upper crust are boring because the overdescribed details of the seduction always ends at the closing of the adulterous door. And while generally understood as happening, the sheer embarrassment of public exposure constantly plagues the participants to over react to perceived slights and innuendos, sometimes to the extreme. And while love and passion are ever blossoming, what is in short supply is any measure of happiness. It seems that both the loveless marriages and the infidelities they manifest ultimately leaves everybody miserable and the participants vulnerable to self dispatch.

Because it is hard to sympathize for any of the characters, even the seemingly naive ones, untimely demise don't elicit much reaction. Perhaps, that's because, we the readers, are just doing our best to soldier through the insufferable nature of the characters.

Ultimately, that make us the good soldiers for getting through the book.

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

This WAS a Great Book

This WAS a great book, it was an iconic first at non-linear timeline, existential despair, stream of consciousness, and modern unreliable narration. Written just before WWI it was originally titled “The Saddest Story” and all the characters are unlikeable, no one gets what they want, and the closer the protagonist looks, the less he finds to believe in. The book is bleak from start to finish.

This felt to me somewhat more experimental than artistic, exploring writing about meaninglessness, and does this quite well, but I only found it only meta-enjoyable as I deconstructed the unreliable story and watched as the protagonist uncovers everything he believed in as false, even himself. The Saddest Story indeed.

I would only recommend this to those interested in this book’s place in the history of modern literature.

The narration was clear enough, and perhaps it was appropriate in tone for this text, but I found it a bit soporific.

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars

Where’s the action?

I read it because it is on every must-read list. It did not hold my attention because it was like reading the diary of someone with less than average writing skills and a very uneventful life.. It was all description and nothing really ever happened. No more Ford Madox Ford for me. The best thing going for it was Frank Muller who is a great narrator.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

A book to listen more than onece

This book is beautiful writing. The way that Ford Madox Ford describes every situation, they way he wrote every memory is amazing. I love to hear the voice of Frank Muller. I will listen to this book several more times, I know that each time I will hear something new, I will get more deeper in the story. Thanks.