The Pequod Review:
“This is the saddest story I have ever heard.” Thus begins The Good Soldier, a novel that tells the story of a seemingly normal friendship between two couples (Edward and Leonora Ashburnham, and John and Florence Dowell) as narrated by John from some point in the future. Edward Ashburnham is the soldier in the title and is on first impression a respectable English gentleman (“I never came across such a perfect expression before and I never shall again”), but as the story unfolds he and his fellow characters reveal extraordinary lies and deep betrayals.
The genius of Ford’s novel is the way he uses a non-linear structure, alternating perspectives, and unreliable narration to slowly reveal these flaws. Later in life Ford would recall discussions he had with Joseph Conrad that would inspire his structure for The Good Soldier:
It became very early evident to us that what was the matter with the Novel, and the British novel in particular, was that it went straight forward, whereas in your gradual making acquaintance with your fellows you never do go straight forward. You meet an English gentleman at your golf club. He is beefy, full of health, the moral of the boy from an English Public School of the finest type. You discover, gradually, that he is hopelessly neurasthenic, dishonest in matters of small change, but unexpectedly self-sacrificing, a dreadful liar but a most painfully careful student of lepidoptera and, finally, from the public prints, a bigamist who was once, under another name, hammered on the Stock Exchange. Still, there he is, the beefy, full-fed fellow, moral of an English Public School product. To get such a man in fiction you could not begin at his beginning and work his life chronologically to the end. You must first get him in with a strong impression, and then work backwards and forwards over his past.
This is Ford’s modernist masterpiece, with a clear focus and intricate plot that never steps wrong.