Parade's End

by Ford Madox Ford

The narration is "unstuck in time" & concerns war (Slaughterhouse-Five). A main character, responsible at times for carrying the plot, is mentally impaired (The Sound and the Fury and Memento Mori). The story is long, incomprehensible in many places, and some characters have unlikely sobriquets like "Tea Tray" & "Hullo Central" (Finnegans Wake). The book is a tetralogy, originally written as four separate novels, & has been compiled into a singular tome representing a massive amount of challenging reading (The Alexandria Quartet). Parade's End marks the first time I have to read the introduction both before AND after the reading of the book itself. This can be seen as both bad and good. The intro's pre-read is in anticipation of the book being tough, yet the post-read of the intro (or re-read, really) wouldn't even have happened if I thought the story wasn't worth a second go at comprehension. I end up pretty gratified to feel I've gotten about as much as there is to get out of such a heaping help of mental & emotional spaghetti.

This is a book of World War I. The main character's motivations are rather inscrutable to begin with (is he supposed to be Christ-like?), additionally he is shell shocked, AND on top of all that he is suffering from a traumatic brain injury. For these three reasons, even though the narrative is third person, the author—via his impaired main character—falls short in his duty to the reader: The plot remains largely tenebrous throughout. More weight is always given to every character's inner voice, such to the point that there are scenes in which people—yes, even ones without TBIs—don't even realize that they have been speaking!? I feel edified, as per the paragraph above, to be keeping good company with Robie Macauley (esteemed writer, teacher, editor), when he writes in the book's introduction of the "incongruous material that tumbles out of each mind," and how, "The whole book is like an immense juggling act of time and point of view." OK, good. If that's what it's supposed to be, then that's what I got!

Funny, Ford & Conrad were contemporaries, and they even collaborated on some writing. I recall that I have written about the writing of Joseph Conrad, "Not the easiest read by any means, but worth making your way through." I can't say that I would offer the same suggestion when it comes to reading this Ford book. While the first part of my advice is certainly true, the latter isn't necessarily. I happen to know there is another Ford book yet to come on the list, as it is one I've read before. I also recall it being what I find this book to be: IMPORTANT READING BUT DIFFICULT.

I don't want you to be fooled: There is no part of Parade's End written as lucidly as the following. But it is because of WHAT IT IS THAT'S SAID in these three mere sentences, and only secondarily for its uncharacteristic clarity & directness, that it's my favorite!
"An Englishman's duty is to secure for himself for ever, reasonable clothing, a clean shirt a day, a couple mutton chops grilled without condiments, two floury potatoes, an apple pie with a piece of Stilton and pulled bread, a pint of Club médoc, a clean room, in the winter a good fire in the grate, a comfortable armchair, a comfortable woman to see that all these were prepared for you, and to keep you warm in bed and to brush your bowler and fold your umbrella in the morning. When you had that secure for life you could do what you liked provided that what you did never endangered that security. What was to be said against that?"