I was a little reluctant to begin this book as the cover states it is “The Saddest Story Ever Told” and given the title I assumed, wrongly, that it would be about the war. Thankfully I found it to be far from the saddest story I have ever read, although by the end I did not enjoy it. Just as a side note, I read this book quite some time ago but did not have chance to review it for a long time so apologies if this review is a bit vague!
I’ll start from the beginning which I did find quickly swept me into the story of an American and his wife – John and Florence Dowell – who become friends with a “model couple” – Edward and Leonora Ashburnham – while they are taking an extended holiday in Europe. The couples soon become very close, but as we learn more about the characters the reader discovers that things are not as they may first appear. It was this gradual realisation that, actually, everything I thought I knew about the characters was false which I particularly enjoyed about the book. To be tricked by the writer so completely takes a lot of skill, and I was completely taken in by it.
But, ultimately, it was the unreliable and unlikeable narrator who also made me dislike this book by the end.
“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.”
Although I enjoyed making sense of the puzzle at first, I found by around halfway through I just wanted to get to the end of it and the twisting and convoluted plot made me impatient.
The thing I disliked most about this novel was the narrator’s attitude to women. Without giving away the plot, the narrator had reason to dislike certain women but I found his attitude towards them insufferable and he seemed to blame them for all of his and his friends’ woes. If a man were to fall in love with a woman he couldn’t have and made himself miserable then it would be the woman’s fault for enticing him, for example. I can see why become a classic, but it is not one I particularly enjoyed.