The Good Soldier – Ford Madox Ford (1927)

book217This title has been on my TBR list for ages, and as I happen to be going through a phase of reading early 20th century books, this rose to the surface of the TBR pile. This is the story of two couples who get mixed up in each other’s affairs, all from the perspective of one of the husbands who happens to be an unreliable narrator (or is he?)

This is not a book to daydream through – it jumps across countries, it goes back and forth with time, and it discusses each of the characters in turn, so, as a reader, you’ll need to keep your wits about you in keeping everything straight. (Or I did, at least.) In fact, I would probably suggest that this would be a book to be read in great big swathes of time so you can dive into the story and experience the narrative as one continuous stream. Overall, it’s rather a bleak and sad read, but it’s still very good. Not every book has to be a happy read.

This reminded me of Fitzgerald’s writing (i.e. The Great Gatsby) in that it spotlights an opulent over-the-top and superficial lifestyle but with barebones morality – money can buy you lots of things, but it can’t buy you happiness. There is also a similar ennui that pervades the story – there are people having affairs with each other, but they’re not acknowledged or addressed in any way – only a vague sense, a hint of things gone awry and no energy is spent to change things…

This was published in 1915, so it’s set before the Great War (WWI) and before the Jazz Age (which might have been an American thing anyway). Ford (or Madox Ford?) founded several literary magazines, one of which was when he was in Paris in the 1920’s and hanging out with James Joyce, Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and others of that “Lost Generation” group.

ford_madox_fordHis writing in this book reminded me of Hemingway and Fitzgerald, but this was written and published years before, so I wonder who influenced whom in writing style. (If indeed, they did.) I know that Ford collaborated with Joseph Conrad, but not sure about others. They must have been familiar with each other’s writing though, so if one goes by chronological reasoning, Ford must have influenced Hemingway.

Ford was smack in the middle of the Modernist period (info of which can be found here from Wiki) and as I was reading about this creative “movement” (good word for it as it was constantly changing and reflected the huge transformations going on in the world), I was struck by how inter-linked the worlds of painting, sculpture, literary and music are.

The early 20th century was a huge time of cultural unrest for many places – the uneasy acceptance of more machinery-based industry, a time of change and possibility, but also of disruption and unbalance, of questioning culture and the things about you… Having just read Forster, Fitzgerald, Madox Ford and others, learning about this time period helped to change it in my head from being a flat one-dimensional time to one of depth. It’s hard to explain, but it’s similar to the difference you see between normal TV and high-res.

So – good read. Not entirely sure that I will follow up with more Ford in the near future, but glad that I have read it as it triggered more in-depth reading about the times.

Speaking of Fitzgerald, I saw the recent movie of The Great Gatsby, and when combined with my very recent readings of the novel, have to say that this was one of the best movies that I have seen this year and in recent memory. I think if you go in to the movie with a flexible interpretation of the original novel, you’ll enjoy this, and if you’re into fashion et al, the costumes are amazing. (Actually, even if you’re not, the clothes are sumptuous. I’m hardly a fashion maven, but even I noticed the great outfits.) It also struck me as being a very sad story as well for most of the characters, although people in the audience were laughing in places. Excellent movie though.


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