The Good Soldier

“The real heart of a passion long-continued and withering up the soul of a man is the craving for identity with the woman that he loves. He desires to see with the same eyes, to touch with the same sense of touch, to hear with the same ears, to lose his identity, to be enveloped, to be supported.”

Ford Madox Ford

The Good Soldier is supposed to be one of *those* books, a novel that changed the course of Modernism in the twentieth century and a Great Novel in English.

I hadn’t heard of it before I saw it on my reading list.

And, to be honest, it’s not the kind of book I like. It’s the story of Edward and Leonora Ashburnham and John and Florence Dowell, an English and an American couple who meet somewhere in Europe and have various affairs with each other. (This is not a spoiler, for reasons outlined below.)

It’s an Impressionist novel, defined handily by the narrator John Dowell:

This is a real story and…after all, real stories are probably told best in the way a person telling a story would tell them. They will then seem the most real.

What this means in practice is that we get the story not in chronological (read: sensible) order but in the order that the narrator thinks of them: so he begins talking about one incident and then needs to explain that by recourse to another incident and then another and so on and so forth until finally, about twenty pages later, he explains the significance of the first incident. It’s fairly exhausting, not to mention confusing. And we know the end of the story almost before we’ve begun.

To be fair, I didn’t hate this novel, but nor did I like it, particularly. It was something I had to read and I read it. I prefer my stories linear, thank you.

(Incidentally, this edition includes as an appendix Ford’s essay “On Impressionism”, which contains this gem:

Our Lord was, you see, an Impressionist, and knew His job pretty efficiently.

Honestly. The things these writer types think up.)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s