He’s one of the best read people I’ve ever met and is always able to recommend new books to me that I will enjoy and learn from.
A few years ago, I was visiting friends at a farm near Wichita, Kansas. Our plans were to be outdoors all weekend riding but Saturday morning brought steady rain. But for that chance occurrence, I never would have called my friend and got a book suggestion that has lead to years of gratifying reading pleasure.
The book was “The Good Soldier,” by the English writer Ford Madox Ford. Set in various Continental watering holes in the years leading up to the First World War, it deals with two wealthy expatriate couples, one English and one American. The subject of the book is the emotional and sexual intrigues between the four that ensue. (One critic called it the best French novel ever written in English!)
A small masterpiece, it is constructed with lapidary precision, without a wasted word but still containing some of the finest English prose in existence. As good as it was, it is matched if not surpassed by Ford’s magnum opus, a set of four novels known collectively as “Parade’s End.”
These books (a “tetrology”) tell the story of an English gentleman, Christopher Tietjens as he tries to live up to the archaic code he was raised to honor. Unfortunately, he is living through an era (World War I) and a relationship (the ‘Eternal Triangle’) that test his soul and his sanity.
Tietjens is wonderfully played by Benedict Cumberbatch (known for his recent role as Sherlock Holmes), in an adaptation of “Parade’s End” by the BBC and HBO shown as a five-part miniseries in February. The women in his life—a heartless society beauty and an idealistic young feminist—are perfectly cast in Rebecca Hall and Adelaide Clemens respectively.
Some have said it is the best thing the BBC has ever done. That should come as no surprise when you realize that it was written for the screen by Tom Stoppard, the British playwright who gave us “Shakespeare In Love” and other dramatic triumphs too numerous to mention since he burst on the scene with “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” in 1966.
You know how some books and movies are so powerful that you will forever remember the time and place you first experienced them? “Parade’s End” is one of them. Watch it and read it.