K.D. Absolutely's Reviews > The Good Soldier: A Tale of Passion

The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford
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Mar 23, 11

bookshelves: 1001-core, 501
Recommended to K.D. by: 501 Must Read Books, 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2006-2010)
Read from March 19 to 22, 2011 — I own a copy, read count: 1

** spoiler alert ** He is found lying in the pool of his own blood at the entrance of his bakery. He has slit his throat with a sharp knife. Have you seen how a chicken is killed in the kitchen? The butcher or the cook does not fully decapitate the chicken right away. He first slits the chicken’s neck and collects the blood in a saucer with raw rice. This blood in rice can be added to the viand later together with the rest of the chicken meat.

The man, likened to the chicken, was the husband of my paternal grandfather’s sister. He killed himself because he found out that his wife was having an affair with their baker. It remains as one of the biggest scandals in the history of our island-town unequaled even up to now. It’s just that only the really old people could still recall the story told to them by their parents. All those who lived during that time are already dead. It probably happened at the same time, 1910-1914, when Ford Madox Ford (x) wrote this book, The Good Soldier.

I am not sure what went on during those years. As another example, in her lifetime, my paternal grandmother had 3 husbands. Maybe it was because of the wars had directly or indirectly had some effects to the needs, I don’t want to say libido because they were my ancestors, or morale of their generation. Maybe because of fear (from war and chaos), they wanted to have a stronger assurance, through amorous illicit affairs, from somebody that their legal partners could not provide.

Ford originally thought of giving this book, The Good Soldier the title The Saddest Story as he begins his narration with the line ”This is the saddest story that I heard so far.”, I read 400+ novels and I can say that this, indeed, is one of the saddest novels I’ve read so far.

It is a story of two couples, 2 of them plus one of the mistresses die before the story ends. One American couple, John Dowell, the narrator and his wife for nine years, Florence goes to Europe because Florence wants to live there.. Their marriage cannot be consummated because Florence has a heart problem which later gets divulged to be untrue as she is having an affair with Jimmy the cabin boy. In Paris, the John and Florence meet and English couple, Edward who has plan to join the British army and John sees him as a perfect gentleman (thus the title The Good Soldier) and Leonora, the devout Catholic woman. I will not spoil it by telling you the complete plot. Suffice it to say that the way Ford made their lives interwoven is so disturbing that it made me recall the stories from generations past of my own lineage.

Does infidelity run in my blood? I hope not.

I am rating with 3 stars for two reasons: (1) I understand that the narrator wants himself to be just an observer and he shows indifference to the story. For example, when asked the question how does it "feel to be a deceived husband?" and he can only respond with the answer: "Heavens, I do not know. It just feels nothing at all." This is quite unbelievable. Well, based on the story of my forefather who had to kill himself because of his wife’s treachery or deception; (2) For quite some time now, I have been trying to read war novels and the title deceived me. There is not a single war scene in this book. This is about passion, adultery, deception, murder, suicide, etc. but not war. The rambling-like narration is understandable because John Dowell is part of the story and telling everything once again should be painful for him. Thus the sporadic and fragmentary recall of the incidents is justifiable and for me, makes the story more interesting as far as form is concerned.
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Comments (showing 1-10 of 10) (10 new)

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message 1: by Teresa (last edited Mar 22, 2011 10:48PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Teresa Unpleasant as it and its narrator is, I loved this book, mostly due to the writing and the structure - I found it mesmerizing. I need to reread it to do it full justice.

As to the narrator, when you write: "This is quite unbelievable." That is exactly right! Do not believe him. He has to be one of the most self-deluded, unreliable narrators in English literature.

And I don't know how the author did it (which is why I admire it so much), but I was in awe of how the author revealed things to both his narrator and to the reader.


K.D. Absolutely Exactly, T.

Based on Wiki:
The novel is told using a series of flashbacks in non-chronological order, a literary technique that formed part of Ford's pioneering view of literary impressionism. Ford employs the device of the unreliable narrator,[1] to great effect as the main character gradually reveals a version of events that is quite different from what the introduction leads you to believe. The novel was loosely based on two incidents of adultery and on Ford's messy personal life.

I think that his "unbelievability" is part of the "package" and it makes this story interesting especially to literary critics. If you really think about it, his character is also unreliable because he is weak (when he should be strong), he sees Edward as a perfect Gentlemen when he knows that Edward and her wife are having an affair, etc. It is so pathetic but the "unbelievable", I am not surprised, might even endear him to the readers. After all, he is the one cheated here. He is the victim.


message 3: by Teresa (last edited Mar 23, 2011 09:24AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Teresa K.D. wrote: "It is so pathetic but the "unbelievable", I am not surprised, might even endear him to the readers. After all, he is the one cheated here. He is the victim. "

I read it awhile ago, so am not sure of my exact feelings at the time, but I think that while I sympathized with him in the beginning, that sympathy might have been gone by the time I neared the end.


message 4: by Stephen (new)

Stephen Great review, K.D.


Steve mitchell I liked the book but I disagree that it is the saddest story or even close. I didnt while reading, and still don't believe that anyone can be so gullible as the hubby John Dowell, and since I couldnt suspend my disbelief or maybe because I figured anyone that dense deserves what they get, I didnt care what happened to him or his life. Plus how is it sad if everyone involved is pretty much a complete tool?


K.D. Absolutely Steve, maybe I was just depressed when I read this. Then I remembered the story of a man in our town who killed himself (by slashing his throat) when he realized that his wife was sleeping with their baker. They owned the biggest (or only) bakery in our town. The woman was a distant relative (paternal side). This was in the 30's before the war. My mom told me the story when I was a young boy.


Steve mitchell K.D. wrote: "Steve, maybe I was just depressed when I read this. Then I remembered the story of a man in our town who killed himself (by slashing his throat) when he realized that his wife was sleeping with the..."

Wow, thats nuts. I can think of some throats that might get cut if that happened to me but it wouldnt be mine!


Mkerogazov I'm so pissed off with you - in one line you spoiled a whole book. I'm reading it now and was just going to mark it here that I was reading it. What a party-pooper. At the moment I wanted to smack you on the top of your head with something moderetly heavy. Like a book. I, by the way, like the book quite a lot.


K.D. Absolutely Huh? It has a spoiler tag!


pigeon At first I thought this review was really weird - I didn't expect your personal tragedy to inform your review. But then again, who doesn't have some emotional connection to Ford's novel? When I am feeling pious, I relate to Leonora and only wish her the best. I imagine she's some sort of Jennifer Aniston-type character who finally, at the very end, gets the husband and the baby. But when I succumb to sentimentalism (which isn't difficult for me!) I favor poor Edward. How can we blame him for seeking out love? After all, we only have this one life to find the briefest moments of happiness. And once Leonora had taken that from him (as she should have,) he had no more rutting seasons left in him, his heart. Sad, sad, sad. I wonder --- what does it feel like to be old and alone? Or old but with someone whom you do not love? It must be a miserable situation... anyway, I digress. Great review! And I totally agree re: John Dowell. He is an unreliable narrator and pretty unlikeable. Of all the characters, he gets the least amount of sympathy from me. He's either dumb or just extremely naïve. But then again, we'll probably all been THERE before. Ack!


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