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The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford
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Oct 10, 11

bookshelves: fiction-mainstream
Read in October, 2011

THE GOOD SOLDIER. (1915). Ford Madox Ford (1873-1939). *****.
This is the first novel I’ve read by Ford, but was so impressed with his narrative skill that I’m sure that I’ll read more by him. Just as a side note, several of his works are available on “Google Books.” This is the story of two couples who were friends for a period of about nine years. It is narrated by the husband of one of the couples, Mr. Dowell – we never learn his first name, and his last name comes to us only towards the end of the book. Dowell’s wife was Florence. This couple was American, though now living in France, where they were to be permanently because Florence could not physically stand another trip across the Atlantic for health reasons – at least that’s what we’re told though we learn that the real reason is much different. They meet an English couple, Captain Edward Ashburnham and his wife, Leonora. The two couples got on splendidly until we learn that the Ashburnham’s marriage is on the rocks because of the pilandering of Edward. In all other respects, however, Edward was a good husband and a ‘good soldier.’ Both couples were of independent means, though by no means wealthy, with incomes from property rentals. Dowell is perpetually amazed at the goings-on of Edward as you wouldn’t know that there was a problem from all outward appearences. Then we learn that Florence has her little escapades on the side – much to the dismay of her husband. Of the four, it is only Dowell himself who doesn’t seek outside lovers. This is not a novel about sex, but about the effects of secrecy of affairs on the marriages, and what drives people to engage in them. The author had a masterful command of the language, and pulls us along with him in his story-telling. It was interesting to note that the original title of the book was, “The Saddest Story,” but was changed by his publisher to the current title because of the dire financial times during which the book was issued. The current title – according to Ford – was his suggestion because he couldn’t think of any other. The narrator makes the following statement towards the end of his story: “I have, I am aware, told this story in a very rambling way so that it may be difficult for anyone to find their path through what may be a sort of maze. I cannot help it. I have stuck to my idea of being in a country cottage with a silent listener, hearing between the gusts of the wind and amidst the noises of the distant sea, the story as it comes.” The particular edition that I’ve read was published by The Folio Society in 2008, and contained an excellent preface by Julian Barnes. Highly recommended.
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TheGirlBytheSeaofCortez This is a wonderful review, Tony. I love this book, too, and it's about time I reread it. I didn't know "The Saddest Story" was the original title. Thank you for this review.


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