I seem to have been under a bit of a misconception with this book; based on the title and the fact that it was published in 1915 I thought it would be a book about war. It isn’t, of course. I expect everyone else already knows that and I’ve just made myself sound stupid, but it’s really not a book I’ve ever considered reading or paid any attention to until recently. That’s my excuse! What is The Good Soldier actually about, then? Well, it’s a tale of marriage and adultery, of love and betrayal, and it reminded me of something F. Scott Fitzgerald might write (although Fitzgerald’s books would come several years later).
The Good Soldier is a deceptively simple story of two seemingly respectable couples who meet and get to know each other at a spa town in Germany in 1904. John Dowell, our narrator, is an American who has come to Bad Nauheim with his wife, Florence, whom he tells us has a weak heart. The other couple – Edward Ashburnham, another heart patient, and his wife Leonora – are British. Seen through John Dowell’s eyes, the story of these four people and the relationships between them slowly unfolds and we gradually discover that there is more to each of them than meets the eye.
I don’t think I really need to say much more about the plot – and to do so would run the risk of spoiling the book for future readers. This is a story built around lies, deceptions and secrets, things which are only revealed when John Dowell decides to reveal them. It’s an interesting structure, consisting of a series of memories and flashbacks told in non-chronological order, moving backwards and forwards in time. Interesting, but not very easy to follow, at least on a first read! This is the sort of book you would really need to read more than once to be able to fully appreciate it, but I don’t think I’ll be reading it again – at least not in the near future – because, although I did like the book, I didn’t like it enough for a re-read.
It’s a clever and intriguing novel, though, with a narrator who is certainly not a reliable one. We can never be sure how much of what Dowell says is true, as he often makes a statement or describes a sequence of events only to contradict himself later in the book. I was constantly having to change my mind about the characters and reassess what I thought I knew about them. The question is whether Dowell is deliberately trying to mislead us or whether he himself is deluded or confused. Even the opening line is curious: “This is the saddest story I have ever heard”. Why does he say it’s a story he’s ‘heard’ when he is one of the main participants in the story? This is a book that left me with many more questions than answers!
Have you read anything by Ford Madox Ford? I think I would like to try Parade’s End at some point.
20 thoughts on “The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford”
I guess I need to get around to reading this… I’ve had it for years and keep passing it by because I, too, thought it was about the war. So don’t feel alone.
I’m glad I’m not the only one who thought this was a war story! I do recommend reading it, so I hope you get round to it eventually. 🙂
One of the best books I have EVER read …deceptively complex . A lesson in less is more .
Yes, it’s far more complex than I thought it was going to be at first. It’s not a book that I loved, but definitely a book that I admire.
I have read it several times: it is a book that needs re-reads, I feel. And the rest of the trilogy is worthwhile but the same: re-reads. No easy books but rewarding.
Yes, I’m sure re-reading this book would be very rewarding. Maybe I will re-read it eventually, but not yet as I would like to read the Parade’s End novels first, I think.
This is one of those books that I keep hearing about but have never found a reason to seek out and read. I’m not certain now that I shall bother. Where ‘Parade’s End’ is concerned, wasn’t there a highly praised television adaptation some years ago? That might be worth seeking out.
I remember Parade’s End being on the television a few years ago, but I didn’t watch it. I’ll have to keep it in mind.
I usually enjoy unreliable narrators. Coming up in my stack is a book by Ford Maddox Ford, the first of the Parade’s End books. I think The Good Soldier is one of his best-known books, though. I haven’t read it yet. Someone above asked about a Parade’s End TV series, and yes, there was a great TV series with Benedict Cumberbach in the lead.
I hope you enjoy the first Parade’s End book when you get to it. I would like to read it, though not immediately.
Sounds interesting. I like to check it out
Yes, it’s a fascinating book, with a very clever and complex structure. I didn’t love it, but would definitely recommend checking it out. 🙂
I didn’t read your full review, as I’ve got this coming up (probably not til 2017 though), but clever and complex is just what I like.
I would love to know what you think of it when you do eventually read it!
Hi Helen, I finally got around to reading this and to be honest, I didn’t care for it at all. I didn’t like any of the characters, which is not a fatal flaw for me, but it doesn’t help. Clever…complex? Yeah, I’ll give him that, and Ford can write, but I think I need to try something else by him, because this just didn’t do it for me. My review: http://tinyurl.com/yd6xjuxb
Well, I liked it more than you did, but I can’t say that it’s a book I particularly enjoyed and I do understand why you didn’t care for it. I want to read something else by Ford too, possibly Parade’s End.
I loved this book – but wouldn’t have read it if my book group hadn’t chosen it. I put the unreliable narrator down to mostly mis-remembering the first time around… it didn’t seem as if the narrator set out to deceive to me.
No, I didn’t get the impression that the narrator was deliberately trying to deceive us either – though I think I would have to read the book again before I could make my mind up.
Not sure if suitable for me, Italian, to read in English… I started but…. Not easy!
Good luck. I hope you enjoy it and don’t have too many problems with it!