Edition: Bodley Head, 1971
Review number: 476
This unusual novel is told using all the artistry at the author's disposal to make it appear to the reader that it is written without any artistry, as though it is a transcription of a reminiscence told rather discursively to an old friend. In subject, it is like a Henry James story, told in a less artificial manner.
Ford's story is about two couples, the narrator (unnamed) and Florence, Edward and Leonora, who meet annually at a German spa town. The narrator fails to realise what is happening for many years, until after Edward kills himself he is told that Edward and Florence had an affair which ended when Florence herself committed suicide after it had been revealed that she had had a previous affair. At the time, the narrator had thought that her death was heart failure, as a heart condition was the reason that they had come to the spa in the first place. Leonora, who knew the truth, had worked hard to prevent him from discovering it.
The novel is a psychological study of four people, told by one who is (deliberately) not a psychologist, who has little understanding of his own motives, let alone of those of others. Deceived for so long, he was clearly not very observant and wanted to misinterpret even what he did see. The subtlety with which Ford reveals the limitations of his narrator is breathtaking. Like the works of James, this novel can seem very slow moving, because so much is concerned with the inner lives of the characters, even though the plot itself is quite melodramatic. The atmosphere is less overheated than it is in James, which makes the whole thing more believable. I suspect that Ford is rather unfashionable at the moment, but this novel should certainly survive to be rediscovered.