2007: 87. The Good Soldier

“This is the saddest story I have ever heard.”

The Good Soldier, Ford Maddox Ford

What an opening line.  I could have sworn I had read this book before, and certainly was familiar with its famous first words, but I found the plot to be completely new to me.  Now, whether this is because, as Clive James* says, we forget every novel we read, or whether I actually had never read this before, I guess I’ll never know (although that very issue is about 99% why I started this blog!).  Anyway, this is quite a book - I started out loving it, immensely, and even though, by the end there were issues that meant that I couldn’t love it with my whole heart, I must say that this is a hell of a book.**


It tells the story of Edward Ashburnham, who is a first rate soldier, a perfect English gentleman and a total cad with women.  His fatal flaw ruins the life of his wife, his ward, the narrator (an American friend), and a few others along the way.  It is. if not the saddest story ever told***, one of the saddest.  What I loved about it was the narrator, particularly the discursive way he told his story, and the way that honor is really mourned in the book.  What I didn’t like was the way that the narrator ultimately turns on Ashburnham’s wife, Leonora - I know why he did, but it seems unfair. I was also a little bit squidgy about the way he talks about Catholicism. I know that is the time period, and I am not even devout, but I hate how it makes me feel excluded from characters that I would otherwise identify with.  Guess it shows how far we’ve come as a society in re religious toleration, or maybe its an American thing (the narrator may be American, but the author is not).

Anyway, if you are looking to read a fine book about morals and ideas, and cant and hypocrisy and a lost but understandable way of life, this is a pretty good one to read.  I keep thinking about The Good Soldier - I haven’t figured it out yet, and I think I’ll be reading it again someday.

Recommended for: People who like talky books about morality that are clear, modernly written and actually have some plot; people who enjoy good writing and a little bit of scandal.


*WAY more on him to come, so watch this blog in the near future.


** This is extra surprising to me because I recently tried to read Ford’s book about Katherine Howard, The Fifth Queen, and couldn’t get past the first chapter.  Clive James (him again!) says that Ford wrote a bunch of junk and two great novels (four if you count the Parade’s End series as more than one), and I am inclined, based on my very limited acquaintance to agree.  I mean, the Katharine Howard story is inherently interesting, so to flub that up is pretty lame.


***Ford, whose Parade’s End tetralogy is about WWI, would agree, I am pretty sure.


Date/Place Completed: 6/18/07; D.C.

Categories: Commuting Book; Fiction; Modern Library Project


© Carrie Dunsmore 2017