The Good Soldier

by Ford Madox Ford

Within The Good Soldier readers can find Classic Bitch's favorite kind of narration. And perhaps it's my favorite because it's hard to characterize. The narrator is in the story but is not the protagonist. So it is first person, but it is at once: minor, naive, & frame. I think what I find so appealing about this structure is that the sheer humanness of the story is magnified. First you have a focal character with his own human foibles, but then you have a second human reporting on those foibles through, undoubtedly, his own flawed lens! It's guaranteed to be at least a little unreliable, isn't it? And the story of The Good Soldier is told as REMEMBERED—not as it happens—so there's no expectation that time should march exclusively forward in the telling.

Ford Madox Ford was a student of Joseph Conrad (a favorite author of mine), and it so shows! Many, many, many aspects of The Good Soldier could be seen as Lord Jim minus the seafaring and exclusively all-male world. The similarities are too numerous to detail here; suffice it to say that if you like one of these books you will surely enjoy reading the other. Classic Bitch likes both...very much. Their nontraditional narrative style & story structure were deliberate and meant as a way to capture greater realism. I say these authors succeed. We all tell stories about other people, don't we? And rarely are such stories told straight through from beginning to end with strict deference to the actual chronology of the events we're relating. Such stories are also dependent on our VERSIONS of other people: Are they nuanced? Do they change with time? Are they recalcitrant?

What is the book about? The Good Soldier is at once the most unorthodox love story and at once surely the most banal. It's a tale of paradoxes perhaps not engendered but certainly augmented by the fact that it's narrated by one person about another person. Even the word "Good" in the title is a paradox: Perhaps the good soldier is a good soldier, but he's certainly not a good man. But is it even possible for any of us to BE 'good'? Or, as Ford Madox Ford has written: "It is a queer and fantastic world. Why can't people have what they want? The things were all there to content everybody."

I feel I haven't been able to say a thing that might matter to would-be readers. I'll admit that the book grinds to halt here & there in the limited believability of its Edwardian melodrama...but it soars when it is ineffable & profound. If you're a reader who typically goes in for mysteries but might want a break, I would have you read The Good Soldier. Every book written like this (and I had flashes of du Maurier's Rebecca) IS a bit of a mystery because it's a story filtered through human eyes, told only as & how it's understood, and one that forces you to keep asking, "Wait. What's REALLY going on here?"

The reassembled pastiche of events that comprises the book could be conceptualized as impressionist. But the heart of this book is postmodern, and, really...what isn't in life? Isn't everything that's 'true' a shade of gray, at once right in some ways & wrong in others? For an answer to that, I'm with Ford: "Who the devil knows?"