2008: 163-162. Parade’s End 

“The two young men - they were of the English public official class - sat in the perfectly appointed railway carriage.”

Parade’s End, Ford Madox Ford

Parade’s End is actually four novels* - Some Do Not, No More Parades, A Man Could Stand Up and The Last Post, but I was only able to plow my way through two before I gave up the ghost.  I was really looking forward to reading this, because I had so loved Ford’s The Good Soldier, and because it was about World War One, which regular blog readers** will know is one of my own pet subjects.  So, I was particularly disappointed in my inability to finish this novel.  I think part of the problem was that it was packaged as one gigantic novel, instead of four individual ones.  Perhaps if I had parceled out the story over a number of months (with breaks in between), instead of trying to read all four in one go, I wouldn’t have gotten so tired of the story and wouldn’t have had the “I get it” feeling that led me to decide that 500+ pages was more than enough time to spend with Christopher Tjetjens’ (the last honorable man in England) and his dreadful wife. 

But, probably not.  The fact is, while I understand why this is on the Modern Library list (technique, which I will discuss below), the plot was so depressing as to almost break me.  It concerns Tjetjens, the aforementioned honorable man who has married a woman, Sylvia, who is quite frankly wicked (and I think, a character that doesn’t quite work - Ford tries to explain why she does what she does - she was brutalized so she brutalizes the man who was good to her, she hates him because she loves him so, etc., but it doesn’t work for me - she comes across as just evil for evil’s sake).  The first novel, which is about how she is so horrible to him and how he falls in love with another woman, Valentine Wannop,  but does nothing about it (even though everyone thinks he has, and both he and Valentine’s reputation’s are ruined), isn’t too bad, because it all takes place in pre-War England.  However, when I read the second novel, in which Sylvia goes to the front to ruin his reputation in the army, and ends up getting him sent to the front lines, I had had enough.  I understand the point of the story, but I didn’t need to continue to read about an honorable man being destroyed.  I got it.  

However, I do want to say a word about the way the book is written.  It is different from A Good Soldier, which told a complicated story in a straightforward-ish manner.  This story is told such that we enter the action (plot and emotion) in medias res, and only slowly is revealed exactly what is going on - what has happened and how it was done.  It makes the book a bit of a slog, but it also makes is seem more like life - and I do think that it means that Ford accurately conveys the emotional life of these people.  The fact that you have to work a little bit to figure out what happened meant, at least for me, that the emotional impact of things seemed more important than the facts, and since the emotions are (I think) the point of the story, it was an effective technique.  So, I give Ford credit for his writing, but not enough to stay with it to the brutal end.

*And can we talk about how the Modern Library people have totally cheated in their 100 best novel game by including so many books that are actually more than one novel? So far, I have encountered this one (4 book), U.S.A. (three books) and A Dance to the Music of Time (9 books), and that is just in this year alone!  In fact, in that sense I have already hit my resolution to read 10 of the Modern Library top 100 novels, since I’ve read 3 of the Powell’s, and two by Ford, but I am going to be faithful to the spirit of the resolution and read ten different works.  Still, I call foul.


Date/Place Completed:  10/20/08; D.C.

Categories: Fiction, Library Book, Modern Library Top 100, Book Resolution

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017