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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.
8 of 9 people found this review helpful
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 of 30 people found this review helpful