I recently treated myself to a set of 10 ‘Oneworld Classics’ books (at the amazing price of £5.99), none of which I’d read before. After much dithering, I decided to start with Ford Madox Ford’s ‘The Good Soldier’.
According to the back cover blurb, it “tells the stories of two outwardly happy couples who meet at a health spa in Germany just before the start of the First World War, and whose loveless, adultery-ridden relationships are strained and gradually disintegrate, with tragic consequences.”
I’ve never read anything of Ford’s before and didn’t know what to expect. Well, I started reading it last Thursday – always a good day for reading as its ‘music’ day, with the boys’ music lessons in the morning (1 hour reading time), and band practice in the evening (2 hours reading time), and finished it by bedtime. Granted, at 179 pages, it’s only a ‘little’ book, but, come the weekend, I read the whole thing again! I can’t remember the last time I did that.
Ford used non-chronological flashbacks, a style I sometimes find hard to get into, but in this book, as far as I was concerned, it worked a treat. The story is told in first person, again a style I’m not overly fond of, but here, it really ‘fit’. I had a real sense of listening to the narrator relating the events; when you listen to someone speak, it’s usually non-chronological, they lose their train of thought, get side-tracked … In my opinion, Ford constructed the book brilliantly. I find his descriptions different and inspiring; also very true when describing the relations between men and women …
“… our intimacy was like a minuet, simply because on every possible occasion and in every possible circumstance we knew where to go, where to sit, which table we unanimously should choose, and we could rise and go, all four together, without a signal from any one of us, always to the music of the Kur orchestra, always in the temperate sunshine, or, if it rained, in discreet shelters. No, indeed, it can’t be gone. You can’t kill a minuet de la cour (minuet of the court). You may shut up the music book, close the harpsichord; in the cupboard and presses the rats may destroy the white satin favours. The mob may sack Versailles; the Trianon may fall, but surely the minuet – the minuet itself is dancing itself away into the furthest stars, even as our minuet of the Hessian bathing places must be stepping itself still. Isn’t there any heaven where old beautiful dances, old beautiful intimacies prolong themselves?”
“She spoke then slowly, like a person who is listening to the sounds in a seashell held to her ear...”
“In all matrimonial associations there is, I believe, one constant factor – a desire to deceive the person with whom one lives as to some weak spot in one’s character or in one’s career. For it is intolerable to live constantly with one human being who perceives one’s small meannesses. It is really death to do so – that is why so many marriages turn out unhappily.”
“Is there any terrestrial paradise where, amidst the whispering of the olive leaves, people can be with whom they like and have what they like and take their ease in shadows and in coolness? Or are all men’s lives like the lives of us good people … broken, tumultuous, agonized and unromantic lives, periods punctuated by screams, by imbecilities, by deaths, by agonies? Who the devil knows?”
Who the devil knows, indeed … But I do know that ‘The Good Soldier’ is now one of my favourite books, one I am sure I will return to time and again.
While I’m here, I’ll take a moment to update the 'Game of Thrones' review I did a couple of months back. For me, the first 3 books are the best, and ones I won’t mind re-reading. Books 4 and 5 (in 2 parts) were extremely hard work. I was determined to finish, even though the sheer frustration of waiting for something … anything, please … to happen almost had me throwing the books at the wall. Characters in whom you’d invested so much in killed off; new characters introduced who didn’t seem to add anything to the story; people travelling hither and yon, and still the story didn’t progress; characters who’d developed and grown into strong, kick-ass characters suddenly regressed and ended up as total limp biscuits … Actually I can’t be bothered to even try to remember why I ended up being so disappointed in the series, but I will say, that’s it – life’s too short and I have a growing, teetering, ready-to-fall-and-bury-me pile of books that I want to read; sorry, Mr Martin but I’m done with ‘Song of Ice and Fire’.