The Good Soldier: A Tale of Passion has been called the perfect novel, and "one of the 15 or 20 best novels produced in English in our [20th] century". Ford contrasts perception verses reality masterfully as he portrays two perfect couples through the narrative of the cuckold American husband, Dowell, a classic unreliable narrator.
The Ashburnhams, a perfect upper middle class English couple, haven't spoken to each other in private for years. Teddy Ashburnham, the "Perfect Soldier", and seducer of Florence, eases the frustration of a sexless marriage through a series of affairs, which the wife, Leonora, overlooks until his dalliance with Florence, whom she can't stand. Dowell assumes the position of nursemaid to Florence, who convinced him on their wedding night that her heart is too weak for sexual excitement.
Two wealthy couples, one English and one American, meet at a spa in Germany and spend several years in comfortable friendship until it is revealed that the American wife and the English husband are carrying on an affair that the English wife knows about but the American husband does not. After the deaths of the adulterers, more and more is uncovered about both the conduct and emotional meaning of the affair.
The story, narrated by the American husband, is in some sense a detective story, but he is no investigator. The facts come to him unwillingly, since he would prefer not to know. The suspense depends not on what happened, but on the narrator's interpretation of the powerful emotions manifested in very small gestures and remarks.
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