Parade's End Kindle Edition
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|Length: 864 pages||Word Wise: Enabled||Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled|
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The condition of the book was really, REALLY great! It was completely new, perfect to the touch. Sometimes I just find myself admiring the quality of it, and the truly stunning cover - the big reason why I got this particular copy - for I am quite the fan of Benedict Cumberbatch. I do hope that, if you are considering buying this, that you do so, and that you will love it just as much!
He and his wife have come to loath each other with a plate-throwing hatred that only great sensitivity and great intimacy together can produce. She leaves him and has a long affair with another man, after which he takes her back, so she is bitter and thinks he means her harm: “And she acknowledged that he had a certain right. If, after she had been off with another man, she asked this one still to extend to her the honour of his name and the shelter of his roof, she had no right to object to his terms. Her only decent revenge on him was to live afterwards with such equanimity as to let him know the mortification of failure.” Nice, no? He contemplates an affair with the lovely and intelligent Valentine Wannop, but does not act upon this inclination.
In the second book, No More Parades, Sylvia pursues Tietjens to France and his post in the middle of the war not far from the front. Chaos ensues when she lures men to her bedchamber and tells the Tietjen’s commanding officer, the appalled General Lord Edward Campion, that Tietjens is in fact a crypto-socialist. Meanwhile, the war is raging around them and Tietjen’s is becoming slowly unhinged by the fog of war and Sylvia’s monomania for making him miserable. She confesses to another man that the reason she plagues Tietjens is she loves him so much that she would follow him around the world if he would only throw his handkerchief at her. Campion is beautifully portrayed here as a thoroughly delightful amalgam of preposterous buffoon, poetry-spouting gentleman, shrewd soldier and astute judge of people, and he becomes one of the great literary characters of English military fiction. Meanwhile, Tietjens continues to moon indecisively about his regrettably platonic love for Wannop.
In the third book, Teitjens has been “promoted” to the front lines and is witness to all the carnage and chaos of war. Neither he nor the reader is spared the gory details of the brain-numbing violence. Meanwhile, back at home, Sylvia continues to explore romantic options, but she is jaded: “She was by that time tired of men, or she imagined that she was…Men, at any rate, never fulfilled expectations. They might, upon acquaintance, turn out more entertaining than they appeared; but almost always taking up with a man was like reading a book you had read when you had forgotten that you had read it. You had not been for ten minutes in any sort of intimacy with a man before you said: ‘But I’ve read all this before…’ You knew the opening, you were already bored by the middle, and, especially, you knew the end….” Marvelous. The fourth book is dominated by interior monologues of the principle characters that are little short of brilliant and which tie up all the loose ends of the plot.
One of the charming oddities of this book is Ford’s use of exclamation points, something you do not come upon much in serious novels. He seems to use them ironically, or rather to punctuate an ironic observation, like little signal flares to alert the reader that a sly and ironic effect is intended. Another device worth mentioning is the way the plot advances with a sharp thrust forward of a surprising plot development, and then the author goes back in time a fills in the detail that adds context and meaning to the narrative development. It is done the way military incursions are projected and defended, and it lends this long book a lot of forward momentum but with a narrative stability that is very secure.
It is all very satisfying, but do not for heaven’s sake let your attention wander while reading this book or you will miss a subtlety. Its humor is very sly and, like really good champagne, it is very, very dry. The main story line of this great work – a man of honor trying to do the right thing as well as he can in a mad world of war that is going to hell in a hand-basket all around him, with comedy, love, loss, bitterness and redemption all rolled into the great human experience – is the same DNA that you can read in the two other magisterial serials of the 20 Century, Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy and Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time. In fact, what a great thing it would be to read all three of them in one go (perhaps on a very long sea voyage); you would have a pretty spectacular sampling of Englishnesss in the 20th Century.
The protagonist is so passive you want to slap him. He is trying to imitate Christ, something made clear in the book but not in the film. He does show a little agency in book 3, by taking his girl to live with him, but it is all done in that stiff-upper-lip way, rather elegantly actually.
Partly a war book, partly a biting satire of English society (the parts I liked best), partly, it would seem, an almost self-pitying self-portrait, it's a work with somewhat uncertain focus but nonetheless worth reading. Note: a MAJOR problem I experienced was the undercurrent of antisemitism and anti-Jewish feeling. There are enough moments like this in the novel to make me nick one star from my rating, from four to three. It makes one realize how many of these modernist literary heroes -- Ford but also Eliot, Pound, and others -- were reactionary racists. Too bad.