Book Review: The Good Soldier

Wealthy American John Dowell describes in a disarmingly casual, compellingly intimate manner how he and his wife Florence meet an English couple in a German spa resort. They become friends over the years and gradually the history of their relationships and the passions that lie behind the orderly Edwardian facade are unveiled.

A masterpiece of early Modernism and a virtuoso performance of literary skill, Ford’s ‘Tale of Passion’ reflects contemporary interests in psychology, sexuality, and the New Woman.

Its portrayal of the destruction of a civilized elite anticipates the cataclysm of the First World War, which erupted while Ford was finishing the book.

No, by God, it is false! It wasn’t a minuet that we stepped; it was a prison – a prison full of screaming hysterics, tied down so that they might not outsound the rolling of our carriage wheels as we went along the shaded avenues of the Taunus Wald.

It feels like an age since I’ve sat down to talk about books and while there is a lengthy explanation pending, the TL;DR basically is that it’s been a hectic and strange past few months. I know, I say that all the time, but it truly has been crazy! Nevertheless, I’m back! One could say that it’s a bit of a cop out to do a review of a book that I’ve spent months picking apart for my degree, but it’s nice easy content and a good way to reacquaint myself with blogging. Truth is, once I’m back at uni, I don’t read an awful lot outside of the required curriculum. This is largely because I don’t have time for casual reading which is a shame, but I promise that you’ll get premium literature content once summer rolls around.

I know what you’re thinking. Samantha? Reading a war novel? After spending school years bemoaning having to study war poetry, I can say with great relief that Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier has very little to do with war at all. Instead, The Good Soldier is a soap opera about two wealthy couples, one British and the other American, that become tangled in a web of sun, sea and adulterous affairs. A classical Made in Chelsea, if you will.

Is it possible to absolutely abhor a novel whilst simultaneously being in complete love with it? That’s exactly how I feel about this book. Ford treats us to what might be the most depraved and rotten bunch of people I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading about. Not a single soul is happy. All of them are liars and one can confidently say that they all get their just desserts in some form or other.

Don’t get me started on the novel’s narrator, John Dowell. I have never witnessed anyone more unreliable. He will state one thing and then express something contrary. His shifting account of events is what shapes the mysterious and tense atmosphere of The Good Soldier. I may or may not have revelled in the chance to tear into him in my essay on the novel’s suspenseful narration;

Credit to Sondra J. Stang for summing up my feelings. John Dowell was found deceased.

The writing was beautiful. Often heartbreaking at times which was surprising considering our cast of detestable characters. The affairs on the surface are superficial. It is not the ‘saddest story’ you will ever hear despite Dowell professing it as such. It’s a story about melodramatic extramarital affairs. Yet, it is also a poignant analysis of desire and what it means to be human.

You’ll hate every single of the key players. They’re selfish, horrible people, but at the same time, you’ll never want the story to end.



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