I’d been meaning to read Ford Madox Ford‘s The good soldier: a tale of passion (1915) for years. Even before I bought the rather splendid Folio Society edition of 2008 with Philip Bannister’s impressively impressionist illustrations. It’s one of those novels, as he is one of those writers, that appears often in conjunction with the word ‘undervalued’. Jackie Leven, Jack Trevor Story, The (finally, after all these years, recognised) Kinks – I’ve always been a sucker for these guys. And it came to pass that The good soldier was this month’s Book Group selection. Yippee, said I.
It drove me nuts. As far as opening lines go, “This is the saddest story I have ever heard” is a good one. Except … but later for that. How many times do we have to put up with the likes of “I have, I am aware, told this story in a very rambling way …”; or “… looking over what I have written, I see that I have unintentionally misled you when I said …“? Never mind, “You may think that I had been singularly lacking in suspiciousness; you may consider me even to have been an imbecile” – yes, that, of course, but also, how about being a spineless eunuch too? Ah, but he thought he was dealing with “quite good people“. The book could be seen as a bit of an exposure, then, except:
I don’t attach any particular importance to these generalisations of mine. They may be right, they may be wrong; I am only an ageing American [in his 40s – my interjection]. You may take my generalisations or leave them. […] I don’t know. I know nothing. I am very tired.
Me too. One of these generalisations being:
Of the question of the sex instinct I know very little and I do not think that it counts for very much in a really great passion. It can be aroused by such nothings – by an untied shoe-lace, by the glance of an eye in passing – that I think it might be left out of the calculation.
“The sex instinct”? I get the ‘untied shoe-lace’, but you can see how – for all his faults – the world was crying out for D.H.Lawrence. Anyway, I finished this tale of early twentieth century privilege, lassitude, philandery, repression and oppression without much sympathy for the players. “… The saddest story I ever heard“? But you were in the thick of it. And so I read Julian Barnes’ introduction to the Folio edition wherein he expounds on the concept of the ‘unreliable narrator’:
This is literary impressionism of Jamesian subtlety, yet with a crisper delivery; it is also the most perfectly deployed example of the unreliable narrator. But what it absolutely is not is muddle; all is utterly under the novelist’s control.
Now I like Julian Barnes as a novelist, but, apart from this confirming me in my further avoidance of the works of Henry James, I’m still wondering, Why and To what end? Barnes’ conclusion, in considering the ‘undervalued’ word in relation to Ford Madox Ford?
He is not so much a writer’s writer (which can suggest hermeticism) as a proper reader’s writer. The Good Soldier needs The Good Reader.
I can only conclude that I have failed. (But can you trust me when I say that?)
Not sure why anyone thought it was worth reviving Peter Shaffer‘s early ’60s comedy of sexual manners The private ear / The public eye. As a period piece it’s more of a historical document than anything else, though one can only imagine Dame Maggie Smith’s early career success – was she ever young? – in the original production as a dolly girl. The private ear had its theatrical moment as the mismatched couple listened and wavered as the gauche young man made his moves to the love duet from Madame Butterfly, while Jasper Britton did a good job as the well-respected bowler-hatted gentleman about town suspicious of his young wife’s fidelity in The public eye segment, the plot of which revolved around a neat bit of circular sophistry. But the bit I enjoyed most was the clever and witty scenery changing sequence at the start of the second half involving three stage hands, 2 men in brown overalls and the woman (naturally) dressed in black. Furniture exited and entranced from stage left, right and above while they also effected jacket and facial hair makeovers on the male actor who appeared in both playlets. All this to a booming Happy together over the PA; The Turtles‘ great single has never sounded so good, with the brass section thereon (oh yes!) loud and clear.
The further musical and poetical adventures of Lillabullero
- It’s been a while now but Stony Breakdown 2 in York House is still worthy of mention. Five good bands (including the skiffle one) operating in a highly effective traditional Grand Ole Opry sort of set-up with just the one microphone adding greatly to the atmosphere. Take a bow: Valerie Vale (who looked the part in posture and apparel) and her Aylesbury Aylevators, the Concrete Cowboys, the Mungo Jungo Jugband, Band of Brothers (including a sister) and Foxchase Bluegrass.
- October’s Scribal Gathering was a fine affair with the Rrrants Collective guest hosting. As well as the mighty Antipoet we had the louche Antipasta (the Bard and the ‘Bass Whore’ from said Antipoet), both in rollicking form. Poeterry and Shadwell Smith also shone, along with others from the open mic who I’ve forgotten. Stephen Hobbs, introduced as a poet, then proceeded to do prose.
- Saturday night was the AORTAS Songwriting Competition Final at The Stables in Stage 2. Despite the artificiality of the concept a great night’s music, worth all Dan Plews’ hard work. Naomi Rose the most original writers’ voice, though Corinne Lucy‘s actual voice was extraordinary. ‘Winner’ was Jimmy Brewer – that’s not meant to be disparaging.
- Sunday afternoon we’re back in York House for Stony Voices, an a capella treat with No Strings (who opened and closed the show), The Reluctants and Strictly Harmony in good voice. “So three fifths of way through here are the Last Quarter for those suffering instrument withdrawal symptoms,” said MC Ken. And (purely coincidentally) the sun came out briefly. Doubly unusually, LQ played completely acoustic and to a rapt and silent audience (not their usual crowd in more ways than one); silent when not clapping in appreciation that is. This side of Richard Thompson’s 1000 years of popular music you’re unlikely to get as varied a repertoire anywhere than at an a capella gig like this one. From madrigal to Bob Dylan via the Great American Songbook, no probs.
- Speaking of Richard Thompson, Dan Plews, still standing after his labours on Saturday, played a blinding 1952 Black Vincent (and a lot more of quality) sitting down that same Sunday evening at the AORTAS Open Mic session at The Old George. And the Last Quarter were back on more familiar ground. A grand evening to finish on.