, September 2010
The Good Soldier, considered by scholars to be one of the few stylistically perfect novels in any language and one of the finest ever written in English, is told in a series of digressive flashbacks by John Dowell, one of its four principal characters. Ostensibly the story of a thirteen year friendship between two affluent couples in Europe, it is nothing of the kind. The book’s real subject is deception, the ways in which we fool ourselves and others in order to cope with life.
Though he is a man who would describe himself as forthright, Dowell is, in fact, one of literature’s most unreliable narrators. As such, he weaves an elaborate tapestry out of selective perception and self-delusion. The book reveals its random truths slowly, incrementally, but relentlessly, as Dowell begins to get less and less able to fool himself about the signs he, sometimes willfully, sometimes not, misreads.
There is no real dialog in this novel, every word of which is filtered through John Dowell’s consciousness. That makes the audiobook performer’s characterization of Dowell critical to the listener’s full appreciation of the author’s work. While some readers may find that Kerry Shale’s interpretation makes him sound a bit too much the uncomplicated naïve blockhead, others will weigh that against the finely controlled passion that Shale does know to now and again bring to the surface.