Monday, August 4, 2008

The Good Soldier: the Jacqui's Room Notes

A haiku:

deluded husband
and promiscuous wife meet
not so good soldier

We seem to be on a "deluded/crazy narrator" theme this summer.* John Dowell is the strangest yet. His story is out of order, inconsistent, and full of moments of dramatic irony in which he claims to have been clueless and we readers marvel that he could have been. He makes extreme statements like "She's the only one I ever loved," and then makes them again later in the book about different people. Apparently, greater critics than I have raging debates about whether Ford Madox Ford intended Dowell to be comic or tragic. Without any background in Ford Madox Ford-ology, I'd have to stand in the comic camp. But not like ha-ha funny. More like George Costanza make-you-writhe amusing. Other opinions?

I do think the unreliable narrator point is an interesting one for us as writers. There is a fine balance between having an unreliable character narrate your story (which can be poignant or ironic or funny) and leaving readers feeling YOU are untrustworthy as an author. We want readers to feel like they are in good hands, to feel that they can sink into our books and relax knowing our endings will be satisfying, our plots will seem inevitable within the world we have created, and our characters will behave in ways that make sense for whom we have described them to be. And this takes work, and faithful reverance for our stories and our constructs, and our readers, even when they are 3.

Now, your "that's eerie!" moment of the day:

I planned 15 Classics in 15 Weeks based on what books would be good to read one after the other, so as to have Jane Eyre, for example, with which to relax after Moby Dick. I didn't pay any attention to the content of the books, or the dates I assigned them. Then Pale Fire fell almost exactly on the dates in July on which the book's story takes place. Strange enough. Now, here it is August 4th and I am due to tell you about The Good Soldier, a book that discusses over and over the strange influence the date August 4th has on its characters. Freaky.

On to The House of Green the Seven Gables. What are you reading this week?

* I know. The point could be made that all of Jacqui's Room has a deluded/crazy narrator theme...


Kristi Valiant said...

I really thought I would be a Jane Austen fan once I started reading her books, but I'm so disappointed! I'm afraid to admit this to one of my former roommates who adores Jane Austen more than anything.

I read Persuasion this week and although I enjoyed the story once I got a ways into the book, the beginning seemed so dry and seemed to be written almost entirely in a "telling" sort of way that editors always point out not to do instead of in a "showing" sort of way. We were "told" about characters, their personalities and their relations instead of "shown". I must admit I started reading Emma as this week's book and had to change my selection because I didn't like the characters and it was also "telling" not "showing". I think that was the same reason that I liked the movie versions of Pride and Prejudice better than the book. I'm so sad; I really wanted to be a Jane Austen fan.

My next book is Swiss Family Robinson, and I'm loving it! I'm about halfway done.

Jacqui said...

Oh no! I'm sorry you didn't like it. And I completely understand about WANTING to be a fan; I really wanted to be able to say I'd enjoyed Moby Dick. But if she's not your style, she's not your style and we all admire you for trying.

Looking forward to hearing about Swiss Family Robinson!

J. Thorp said...

Got very busy -- still savoring East of Eden a chapter at a time.

Jacqui said...

Thorp: as it deserves. Enjoy.