Parade's End by Ford Madox Ford

Last Post - Book 4 of the Parade's End tetralogy

published 1928


The boy with a voice had got himself into view towards the bottom of the bed, near Mrs de Bray Pape . . . a tallish slip of a boy, with slightly chawbacony cheeks, high-coloured, lightish hair, brown eyes. Upstanding but softish. Mark seemed to know him, but could not place him. The boy asked to be forgiven for the intrusion, saying that he knew it was not the thing…

Mark returned to the consideration of the softness of the Tietjens stock, whilst the boy gazed at him with eyes that might have been imploring or that might have been merely moonstruck. Mark could not see what the boy could have to be imploring about, so it was probably just stupidity. His breeches, however, were very nicely cut. Very nicely, indeed; Mark recognised, indeed, the tailor – a man in Conduit Street. If that fellow had the sense to get his riding breeches from that man, he could not be quite an ass...



observations: This is the fourth book in the series – for more on the other books, click on the Parade’s End label below. This one is considered to be an unnecessary add-on by some people – Graham Greene, notably, didn’t even include it as part of Parade’s End. And there is a case to be made for ending on the final line of A Man Could Stand Up: Valentine thinking
‘She was setting out on…’
A great incomplete sentence.

But in fact it is nice to have the loose ends tied up. Christopher is absent for most of the book: he has gone to Yorkshire to try to save the great tree of Groby. A lot of the book is seen through the eyes of his brother Mark, who has had a stroke and sits all day, outside but under cover, not speaking but thinking hard.

He and his French wife (formerly his mistress – you could tell they became serious ‘When his father had died he had put her into mourning’) live in Sussex along with Christopher and Valentine, doing pretty well together. The boy in the nice breeches appearing above is Christopher’s son Michael/Mark, who is heir to Groby. Their happy life in the (comparatively) small house is going to be invaded and attacked by various others, including of course the astonishing Sylvia, Christopher’s abandoned wife – a woman who pretended to be dying of cancer just to mess up her husband’s life one more time.

Everyone in the book is obstructive, you do get tired of it, though also they are like real people: annoying, inconsistent and unpredictable. And that is impressive. Tietjens comes over as something on the Aspergers spectrum to modern eyes, and so occasionally, strangely, reminds the reader both of Sheldon in Big Bang Theory, and of Lord Peter Wimsey in Dorothy L Sayers books – he is a complete knowall, terribly clever, the most brilliant man in England. (Soooo not convincing as such). In No More Parades, Sylvia tells us what the attraction is:
It was the most damnable of his qualities that to hear any other man talk of any subject – any, any subject – from stable form to the balance of power, or from the voice of a given opera singer to the recurrence of a comet – to have to pass a weekend with any other man and hear his talk after having spent the inside of the week with Christopher, hate his ideas how you might, was the difference between listening to a grown man and, with an intense boredom, trying to entertain an inarticulate schoolboy. As beside him, other men simply did not seem ever to have grown up...
The book also makes the reader think of Proust: both books resemble no other, and both take very seriously social climbing, the importance of rumour and reputation, and (also like Shakespeare) the strange motiveless malevolence that sometimes overtakes people.

The photograph is, intriguingly, of Franklin D Roosevelt in his youth, from the National Archives. He is younger than the boy in this book, but the photo seemed right.

Comments

  1. Moira - The 'photo seems right to me, too. And that's really interesting that some people thought this book was more of an 'add-on' than an important component to the tetralogy. I've read books like that - just there to 'wrap things up' rather than because of an important new aspect of the overall plot. Still, this one sounds as though it's got some interesting character development in it. And Ford's writing style is smooth and assured - at least in the bits you've shared as you've discussed the novels. And as far as the characters go? Give me messy, sometimes annoying and realistic character over 'perfect cardboard cutouts' any time...

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    1. There's something very real about the characters. And as I try to say above, I can totally see the artistic need to stop at the end of the 3rd book, but at the same time I really wanted to know what happened to everyone.

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  2. I'm one of those that doesn't care much for the final volume - I read it once a very long time ago and basically disliked it and have, i think, tried partly to erase it from my conception of Parade's End - which is a bit fascist of me really - how appalling! Thanks for the reconsideration here Moira, and the food for thought ...

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    1. Same as I said to Margot, above! I completely understand your point of view. I wonder did anyone really try to persuade him not to do it, it would be interesting to hear what he said.

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  3. Moira, thanks for a lovely review. I think one needs to read this book in sequence so as to get a better understanding of the series.

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    1. Definitely Prashant - it's hard enough to keep track of the characters, but this is one you really need to have read in order.

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  4. The people sound interesting, I know this is am important series overall. Knowing nothing at all about the series, other than what I have read here, I like the idea of a summing up.

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    1. Yes, with many good books I really want to know what happened to people afterwards. It is the author's right to withhold that from us, but it doesn't stop me wondering.

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  5. I don't feel compelled to try Madox Ford TBH. You can read them for me thanks.

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    1. Yes, I'm getting to the end of it, and feel that my loyal readers must feel that they've pretty much covered it without even picking it up.

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