The Good Soldier

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.

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