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100 Greatest Novels: The Studs Lonigan Trilogy & The Good Soldier

18 Jun

Don’t have much of an introduction. I’ve been enjoying Houston, reading, and watching through Breaking Bad. Getting closer and getting ready for my wedding in August. But this isn’t a post about me so let’s get to it.

tumblr_lkli3on36i1qaouh8o1_250The Studs Lonigan Trilogy by James T. Farrell

Consisting of Young Lonigan, The Young Manhood of Studs Lonigan, and Judgement Day, this trilogy follows a young Irish-American in the South Side of Chicago before and during the Great Depression. Starting with Studs at age 14, the trilogy follows him all the way to his death right before his 30th birthday. Not much happens in the novels. He drinks a lot, goes to church, thinks about sleeping with girls, sleeps with a few prostitutes and a few “good, Catholic girls.” He works for his father until the Great Depression hits and he doesn’t have much work to do. And so on.

The purpose of the novel was to show the hardships of the Great Depression, the faults of the Catholic church and those who practice Catholicism, and the evils of capitalism that caused the depression. I’m not sure if it really accomplishes all this. The third novel, encompassing the events leading to Studs on his deathbed, does the best job of fulfilling this purpose. Other than that, the first two novels are pretty slow and boring and goes into a lot of repetitive details about Studs’ daily life, his desire for women, his unfounded self-importance, etc. Anyways, enjoyed Judgement Day, didn’t need the first two, wouldn’t necessarily recommend the trilogy overall.

200px-The_Good_Soldier_First_Edition,_Ford_Madox_FordThe Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford

“This is the saddest story I have ever heard.”

That’s how this novel opens up. I’m not sure if this truly is the saddest story but it has to be pretty high up in the list. The story is narrated by an American man who is married to a sick woman that can’t leave Europe because of the boat trip and their “friendship” with another couple, the Ashburnhams. The Ashburnhams are a wealthy English couple, Edward being “the good soldier.” Edward is an unfaithful husband (and so is mostly everybody else in this story).

While an interesting plot, what made this book so enjoyable was the narration. Told in a very conversational, non-chronological way, I enjoyed coming back to certain scenes with more information than I had previously. Each repeated scene had a deeper meaning, more layers to it, every time we learned more about a character. Here’s how the narrator explains his story telling (3/4ths of the way in):

I have, I am aware, told this story in a very rambling way so that it may be difficult for anyone to find their path through what may be a sort of maze. I cannot help it. I have stuck to my idea of being in a country cottage with a silent listener, hearing between the gusts of the wind and amidst the noises of the distant sea, the story as it comes. And, when one discusses an affair–a long, sad affair–one goes back, one goes forward. One remembers points that one has forgotten and one explains them all the more minutely since one recognizes that one has forgotten to mention them in their proper places and that one may have given, by omitting them, a false impression. I console myself with thinking that this is a real story and that, after all, real stories are probably told best in the way a person telling a story would tell them. They will then seem most real.

________

Onwards we go. Next of the 100 greatest novels is Animal Farm by George Orwell, a favorite of mine.

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