Archive for the ‘October, 2011’ Category

The Good Soldier

Saturday, October 22nd, 2011

Recently, FD started noticing repeated references to a novel by Ford Madox Ford, The Good Soldier, usually in reviews of other novels when the review wanted to draw attention to an unreliable narrator.  The number of references and the assumption that every reader of the novel in English is familiar with this work began to make FD nervous.  There are many, many “classics” that FD has not read.  Lists of “100 Best” often leave FD sighing, but usually do not move FD to actually reading such books.  But as FD came across more and more such references, it began to feel as if it really was important for FD to read  The Good Soldier. Fortunately, FD’s excellent local public library had a number of copies available; FD chose a Penguin British edition, with and introduction and notes. Serious reading was clearly ahead!

Julian Barnes, who knows a great deal about writing, provides a good overview of the novel in this piece published in the Guardian in 2008. Reading it after having finished The Good  Soldier helped FD to realize the different ways in which a reader and a writer might experience the novel.  A reader like FD might find the novel amusing, well-written, but ultimately slight:  one of those books that are “realistic” without being “believable” — at least not without a huge “suspension of disbelief.”  A writer, on the other hand, might be completely enthralled by the novel.  As Jane Smiley noted (also in the Guardian), “There are those who believe that The Good Soldier is one of the few stylistically perfect novels in any language…”

The fervor of writers and critics about Ford Madox Ford has made FD curious, and the fact that The Good Soldier was a “good read” has made it possible that FD will read something else by Ford.  Perhaps The Marsden Case — that’s a title with appeal for a mystery reader like FD.

The Drinking Detective

Monday, October 17th, 2011

FD recently read a mystery novel by Jo Nesbo, a highly acclaimed Norwegian writer.  FD read number four in the series, The Devil’s Star (capsule summaries of all of Nesbo’s mystery novels are available here). Perhaps FD should have started with the first in the series.  Read in order, perhaps one would develop more sympathy for the character.  The mystery was, as serial killer mysteries go, well-done, and there’s an appealing subsidiary character, one Beate Lonn, who is another in the growing field of crime scene investigators and could probably carry a novel by herself.

However, FD was ultimately unsatisfied.  The protagonist, Harry Hole, is presented as a seriously alcoholic person (yes, who makes a successful attempt to stop drinking during the span of the novel).  And yet, he is seemingly un-touched by his drinking — every brain cell working better than the brain cells of those around him, great physical condition enables him to take on significant challenges and his appeal to women totally intact, etc, etc.

FD has always felt that most mystery novels are too “easy” on the reader  and this seems another case in point.  Perhaps that’s explains the greater appeal of Henning Mankell’s Wallender series.  Wallendar is, in contrast to many other detectives, really affected by the bad choices he makes, by the difficult life situations in which he finds himself.  FD isn’t really looking forward to reading the last in he Wallender series, but does feel that more mystery writers would do well to follow Mankell’s example of realism even in what is ultimately completely escapist fiction.