What I enjoyed about this most of all was the narrator and the way he tells the story. As the novel opens, you really have no idea what is coming except that it’s “the saddest story in the world.” The non-linear revelation of facts and details of the two couples the book focusses on are revealed piecemeal, and you the reader are left with the job of piecing it all together and drawing your own opinions about cause and effect and, if any, blame to be attributed.
The narrator himself seems very magnanimous for a man whose wife betrays him. I found this only believable if we take his word for it that he went into the marriage less for passion than for social convenience. And it’s taking his word for it that we have to do if we are to have any opinion at all about the events that come to light. The narrator gives us no other viewpoint from which to see anything from.
I can see how some might find this unreliable or frustrating. For me, it’s what made the novel. Yes, you have a story, but the art is more about how that story is told than what that story consists of. Early on, the narrator says he wishes that we were sat opposite him in an armchair warmed by a fire so that he could just ramble on about it all, not worrying about the form of how he relates his story so much as what he relates. As he says
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.
I also appreciated this because when a man finds his wife has been unfaithful, no matter how shallow his marriage may have been up to that point, there are always elements of self-questioning and uncertainty of events that plague him. In fact, when any of us find out that life and relationships, and our very own roles in them, are not as we thought, that’s when life starts taking on exactly the perspective our narrator gives us: a rambling trail that starts anywhere, doubles back on itself, jumps around and rarely, if ever, reaches a destination.
Ford’s genius lies in the medium of the unreliable narrator he has constructed which perfectly suits the subject matter this short novel deals with.
Read more about how I come up with my ratings