To have a heart

At the end of November, I got a new book on my list of books to read: "The Good Soldier" by Ford Madox Ford. I had never heard of him, which must certainly have been a big gap in my education, because I understand this is one of the great English classics. It´s at the local library, both in English and Swedish versions. Coincidentally, my friend M had also read this book during the Holidays, and we hadn´t even (as I recall) talked about it. Synchronicity, I thought, and decided to read it at once.

I think I understand better now, both why it´s considered a classic, and why I never heard of it. According to an article on Wikipedia, Ford was pioneering a technique of literary impressionism, telling the story in bits and pieces, unchronologically. This certainly makes the novel important and interesting. On the other hand, it´s a bit of a chore to read. It was published in 1915, and I don´t think creatures like the narrator exists anymore. If they do, surely there must be a fitting combination of letters to describe their condition. It´s hard for a modern day reader to identify with someone so utterly naive (or downright stupid).

Random picture from my album to adorn this post.
The plot is as follows: An American and an English couple get to know each other at a German health spa. The two that are supposedly ill (from "having a heart", heavy on the symbolism here), become lovers. The husband/narrator, a naive American Philadelphia Quaker and millionaire, never even remotely suspects it, until it´s too late. The cheated wife, a suffering Irish Catholic, understands what is going on even before it begins and even protects the lovers, to avoid a scandal and the greater sin of divorce. I will not tell you how the thing develops from there, but it´s actually rather fascinating.

Towards the end I just wanted the narrator to get on with it, tell me what happened and be done. He becomes very, very irritating, because not only does he tell the story incoherently, he is also constantly trying to explain how the others would have been thinking, what their motives have been, what their feelings have been. And frankly, he knows nothing about people. Which he confesses. And he is contradicting himself all the time. And hinting at "monstrous" and "sad" and "terrible" things to come. So very tiring. All the same, it´s not a book I was ever tempted to give up. The plot is intriguing and in a queer way, it´s a page-turner. And it´s not huge, only 159 pages.

This book has been filmed by the BBC in 1981, with the excellent Jeremy Brett (the ultimate Sherlock Holmes!) as the adulterous husband. I am hugely curious as to how they even managed to write a film script based on this novel, and I have ordered it from amazon.

All in all, I would recommend it to anyone interested in writing. It´s a good read, but I wouldn´t call it a favourite. Will I read it again? I doubt it. But perhaps the film is worth watching twice? I do like Mr Brett... You can get this book for free here.

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