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text 2017-05-25 13:49
Reading progress update: I've read 235 out of 864 pages.
The Good Soldier Svejk - Jarslav Hasek,Jaroslav Hašek

I have had this book on the TBR stack for nearly forever, yet its size was a little off-putting and it was never enough of a priority to overcome that. Then a friend mentioned that he wanted to read it and so I decided to use the opportunity to read it at last.


And perhaps it's because of all of the hype surrounding it, but while I'm enjoying it the novel isn't as good as I thought it would be. Švejk is definitely a great character, but the satirical edge of his adventures isn't as sharp as I thought it would be given all of the comparisons of this book with Catch-22. Now that Švejk is on his way to the front perhaps that will change, or maybe satire is like medicine in that we just saw so many improvements in it over the 20th century to make the leading practitioners back then seem quaint by comparison today.

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review 2016-12-21 03:08
Ford's The Good Soldier
The Good Soldier - Ford Madox Ford,Kenneth Womack,William Baker

I have mixed feelings about this book. It's delivery is more impressive than its substance. It is told by an unreliable narrator in a chatty fireside style, but the narrator reveals that he wrote it over a long period and the information that he gives away and also his attitude shifts throughout the book to the other characters. The book is ostensibly about adultery, but this is a vehicle to explore wider themes of love, commitment, trust and moral character. I guess, I feel that that exploration is not the best and I'm not sure that I am all that interested in what Ford things or presents. He exposes the hypocrisy of Edwardian England right before World War I and that is not exactly hard. However, two characters, the narrator and Leonora are fascinating characters, but one character, the girl Nancy, I found unbelievable. The structure is really interesting. The technique is very good. But I don't know that Ford understood people all that well. So a very interesting book, but one that is hard to love.

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review 2016-08-04 12:42
The Good Soldier - Ford Maddox Ford

Sometimes I can handle stories of the idle rich, sometimes I cannot. This is one of the latter, where I really struggled to care about any of the characters, their rich, bored lives and their endless emotional struggles.

I can understand why this novel is so well regarded: it exposed the fraud of "keeping up appearances," it is told in, what was, for the time, an extremely unconventional way, with what I assume is one of the earlier uses of an unreliable narrator. These things should be celebrated.

But I have a really hard time relating to these rich, religious, "proper" people and that makes it much harder to appreciate the literary techniques. Moreover, there is a strong hint of misogyny towards Florence in particular. I understand that the narrator's views are typical of the time, and he really does eventually label Edward a "villain," but for much of the book it seems to be Florence who is the awful person, something that is rather hard to take, given that she is just about the only interesting character.

Ah well, I've finished it. And I get why it's celebrated. I just didn't like it.

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text 2016-06-04 16:04
Could this be the summer of Švejk?
The Good Soldier Švejk - Cecil Parrott,Josef Lada,Jaroslav Hašek

I'm like just about every other reader in that I have some real monuments on my TBR shelf. By this I mean not the normal books on my TBR shelf that I will get to in the normal course of time, nor those that really are only on there until I realize that hey will never be alluring or important enough for me to pick them out of the pack. These are the books that I intend to read someday but are never a priority without a purpose and always seem just a little too intimidating to tackle casually. Most of mine are classical literature, ranging from The Odyssey to Grossman's Life and Fate. My desire to read them is deep, but they always seem like too much of an investment of time and mental effort without a compelling reason to do so.


One of the novels that I am most interested in reading is Jaroslav Hašek's The Good Soldier Švejk. If you're not familiar with it it's the First World War equivalent of Heller's Catch-22: an absurdist masterpiece about the insanity of war. When I discovered it for myself (far later than I should have) I picked up a copy and it's been sitting on my shelf ever since -- always tempting, but never demanding.


In the course of a Facebook rant yesterday about A Tale of Two Cities, however, a friend of mine mentioned that he had an ongoing project every summer to read the "Great Works of Fiction." On an impulse I proposed reading The Good Soldier Švejk, which would be just the thing to get me to read it, and he ordered a copy. Could this be the summer of Švejk? Watch this space to find out!

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review 2016-03-17 01:42
Books of 1915 (Part Four)
The Oxford Book of Japanese Short Stories (Oxford Books of Prose & Verse) - Theodore W. Goossen
The Golden Slipper and Other Problems for Violet Strange - Anna Katharine Green
The Good Soldier - Ford Maddox Ford
The Lost Prince - Frances Hodgson Burnett
A Little Princess and the Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
Daddy-Long-Legs & Dear Enemy - Jean Webster,Elaine Showalter
Victory/The Secret Sharer - Joseph Conrad
Lord Jim - Joseph Conrad
The 39 Steps - John Buchan

 “Sansho the Steward” by Mori Ogai


This is a poignant short story about a brother and sister who are kidnapped and sold into slavery. There’s no way there could be a happy end for both of them.


The Golden Slipper, and other problems for Violet Strange by Anna Katherine Green


A fun detective novel! The detective is a beautiful, rich, popular heiress. So why is she solving crimes simply to make money? Her special ability is to understand people’s characters. There was a single thread or plot about Miss Strange running through it, but it was also a series of basically stand-alone mysteries. The cases started out being the kind of crimes a society girl might potentially encounter, like a missing necklace, but became increasingly more atmospheric and gothic, involving hidden chambers and tunnels and caves and spooky old houses with dozens of clocks and a blind doctor who is a top gun shooting ace.


The Good Soldier by Ford Maddox Ford


I read this when I was a teenager and I don’t remember it well, just that it was about a group of friends who are having marital problems. I remember that the real story was revealed somewhat slowly, and that I liked it. I looked it up just now on Wikipedia to make sure I was even thinking of the right book, and I learned that Ford originally wanted to call it “The Saddest Story.” His publishers asked for a new title (very properly, in my view—I don’t want to read a book called “The Saddest Story”) and as a joke he came up with “The Good Soldier” in view of the war. I can only ever think of a joke title for my books too, so I really identify with this.


The Lost Prince by Frances Hodgson Burnett


A poor little boy lives in London with his beloved father, who is working to return to the rightful king of his homeland to the throne. You may have figured it out from the title, but in the final pages of the book the boy is astonished to discover that his own father was the missing heir to the throne. I liked that there was a plucky character with a disability who neither died nor was cured; actually, that character reminded me a bit of Becky from A Little Princess. Not Burnett’s very best book, but I enjoyed reading it.


Dear Enemy by Jean Webster


This is the lesser-known sequel to Daddy Long Legs. In this epistolary novel, Judy, a rich socialite with lively and original ideas takes over the orphanage that the Daddy Long Legs heroine grew up in. I was charmed to learn that the orphanage is in Dutchess County, where I live. The orphanage is cheerless and unhealthy when Judy arrives, but she manages to transform it into a place where the children can have nice clothes, affection, a gentle education, up-to-date (for the period) medical treatment, and the chance to play outdoors. It’s understood that Judy will just run the orphanage for a little while, and then marry her rich boyfriend and stop working forevermore, but later Judy is not so sure. Judy comes into conflict with the orphanage’s crabby Scottish doctor, the “Enemy” of the title. However after a while their animosity turns to friendship and then to...? But the doctor is guarding a sorrowful secret.


This part of the book mirrors Jean Webster’s real life. I don’t know much about her, but I did read her Wikipedia page from top to bottom. In addition to being a supporter of women’s suffrage and various reform movements and education for women, she had a boyfriend who couldn’t divorce his wife because she was mentally ill. (I hear this story over and over, and yet I never hear about the undivorcable mentally ill husband.) Webster’s boyfriend also had a “mentally unstable” child. And it sounds like the boyfriend was not the picture of mental health himself.


Anyway, the least appealing part of Dear Enemy is the lip service granted to the eugenics models of Galton and Goddard, with discussion of the feebleminded Jukes and Kallikaks. Judy eventually concludes that there’s nothing in this heredity business, but because it was the “scientific” idea of the age, Webster gave eugenics quite a bit of air time. It does seem that the whole question of inherited mental illness was one that she had a real personal interest in, and I think she was honestly trying to figure it out rather than just being sensationalistic.


This is one of the books of 1915 that’s still read today, as a fluffy fun book for young people, not as a towering literary classic assigned in school. I think the reason for its endurance is that the main character is spunky and is more like a contemporary woman in terms of her attitude toward education, career, and love.


Victory by Joseph Conrad


An Englishman whose business concern in Asia (I think Indonesia?) has failed ends up living “all alone” on an island. (Actually, he has a servant and in addition the native inhabitants of the island live there, but he is quite isolated.) But when he rescues a musician who is being abused by her boss and brings her back to the island to live with him, the boss hires thugs to exact a horrible revenge. This novel was suspenseful and weird. I think Conrad managed to say something racist about every ethnic group on earth, but it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. Spoiler:

EVERYONE dies at the end.

(spoiler show)


I never read any Conrad before except for “The Secret Sharer” which I quite liked and the first few pages of Lord Jim. But the way everyone talks about him, I was expecting something very dreary and “important.” Instead it was the sort of shlocky melodrama that I enjoy. So I will definitely read his next offering.


The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan


I always liked the Hitchcock film, and the book it is based on is fairly similar. It’s a thriller about a man who has to clear his own name by catching the real killer, and in the process he unmasks a ring of spies, with a lot of picturesque running through the Scottish highlands. There’s an extended soliloquy by one of the characters about Jews who control finance and the world (“The Jew is everywhere, but you have to go far down the back stairs to find him... to get to the real boss, ten to one you are brought up against a little white-faced Jew in a bath-chair with an eye like a rattlesnake.”) I’m not sure if the reader is supposed to take that seriously or think it’s ridiculous, but it was rather creepy.

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