Book Review: “The Good Soldier” by Ford Madox Ford

This is an interesting book. It is about two couples, John and Florence Dowell, and Edward and Leonora Ashburnham. Edward is the good soldier from the title. It is written in hindsight from the point of view of Edward, who is describing what happened to him and the others. It was written in 1915, so is about a very different world than the modern day.

I hesitate to give any detail on the story because as it unfolds you discover more and more about the people involved and it ends up in quite a different place than where you thought it was going to go at the beginning. Edward is an intentionally unreliable narrator. He throws out lines that you think that you must have read wrong until they are explained later. The narration is, again intentionally, not chronological. John explains what is happening to one character and then has to backtrack and tell you what happens to the others.

This is something that John claims he is doing unconsciously and it is very effective at making the story unfold in a series of unexpected jolts. The overall effect is one that I think must have been very difficult to accomplish. I was continually surprised during the course of the novel. At the beginning I never had any idea of where it was going to lead.

I have never read anything by Ford Madox Ford before but evidently he pioneered this sort of literary impressionism. I am generally leery of literary techniques like this. In my experience they serve to obfuscate rather than contribute to the story. In this case though, I thought they were remarkably effective. Ford also wrote the “Parade’s End” tetralogy, which is about the first world war, which I’ve already bought and intend to read. The novel is not easy reading, but I think it repays the effort.


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