The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford

First read: 11/05
Reviewed on: 11/23/05
Click here to buy it

I did not like it.
I liked it.
I thought it one of the Best Novels of All Time

This book starts out with the author setting a challenge to himself. I’m going to tell you the story of myself, my wife, and another couple who were our friends for years. We are all “good people” which means that nothing interesting happened to us and we never had any interesting conversations. In fact, my wife had a heart condition which meant when any remotely interesting topic of conversation occurred, we had to steer it away to something mundane. The man of the other couple also had a heart condition, so we had to keep things boring, but they were English, so it wasn’t to hard. Now let me begin my novel-length tale…

And Ford Madox Ford pulls it off! In the course of his story he talks about the tensions between Protestants and Romanists (From his 1900s perspective) and the life of Good People. And yes, the actual story he tells IS very interesting. The narrator is the most clueless schmuck that has ever existed throughout literature. He reminds me of the accountant in a particular Monty Python sketch, going through his boring morning while all sorts of stuff is happening around him that he is missing.

I identified with him.

I identified with the feeling of having a particular group of friends that you enjoy being with, and then things happen and the group breaks up (as these groups always do) and you are the one that misses it the most. I also identified with the feeling at looking back at your experiences of several years with people, and realizing that you had no clue whatsoever about what was going on. And I identified with… nah, I’m not going to spoil it for you further.

The writing is often serviceable, but sometimes extraordinary. I am a fan of this description of one of the main characters:

“I had forgotten about his eyes. They were as blue as the sides of a certain type of box of matches. When you looked at them carefully you saw that they were perfectly honest, perfectly straightforward, perfectly, perfectly stupid. But the brick pink of his inner eyelids, gave them a curious, sinister expression - like a mosaic of blue porcelain set in pink china. And that chap, coming into a room, snapped up the gaze of every woman in it, as dexterously as a conjuror pockets billiard balls. It was most amazing. You know the man on the stage who throws up sixteen balls at once and they all drop into pockets all over his person, on his shoulders, on his heels, on the inner side of his sleeves, and he stands perfectly still and does nothing. Well, it was like that. He had rather a rough, hoarse, voice.”

I’ve spent most of this year reading books off the list, and The Good Soldier was a very pleasant welcome back.

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