review of: the good soldier, by ford madox ford


The Good SoldierThe Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This book is vastly overrated. It pioneered, if that is the right word, the untrustworthy narrator, which may have seemed an innovation a century ago, but now looks worn, disconsolate, like a ramshackle back alley.

It also gave us the flashback, told in non-chronological order, which some call literary impressionism.

Accordingly, the story flits between two couples, one English, the other American, taking the airs on the continent while hanging out a lot of dirty laundry. For 1915 this was intended to be shocking. The sarcastically titled Good Soldier, the Brit hubbie, is a particularly good rogue, despite his charities and decent soldiering, while his American counterpart, who narrates the sludge, is a Quaker and particularly nebbish dolt. The women don’t escape untarnished. One, a young, married woman and the rogue’s third between-the-covers affair, in fact only escapes by killing herself, while another, a young ward of the Brits, is seduced, then sent back to her father in India, goes mad en route, and eventually is nursed by the long-suffering narrator who loves her but can’t marry her due to her madness. Got it?

In my teens (which lasted well into my twenties: tweenties?) I dabbled with this unreliable narrator convention, having fun with a short fiction film named “rendez vous” (both the illicit encounter sense, and “to render yourself”), but have matured enough to be heartily sick of it. (Hollywood, I hear, has re-discovered this type of trickery. Good riddance.)

In the end, our sad, modernist age began with such innovations: for if a book’s narrator can be untrustworthy, then why not doubt the veracity of the Apostles and the Bible itself?

All narrations then, in this metatext world, are self-serving dribble. Or are they?

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