Hi everyone! I was originally planning to write my review of Parade’s End in November with the centenary of the end of WW1 coming up. But I have quite a lot to say and, in fear of forgetting some of my thoughts, I have decided to write it now. Parade’s End is a quartet; the individual books being Some Do Not-, A Man Could Stand Up, No More Parades, and The Last Post. Our protagonist is Christopher Tietjens, the youngest son of quite a wealthy family, whose wife Sylvia has been having affairs during their relationship. However, things become more complicated when Tietjens falls for Valentine Wannop, a young suffragette, yet wants to remain loyal to his wife. This love triangle takes place before, during and after the First World War.
Some people may have seen the BBC adaptation with Benedict Cumberbatch and Rebecca Hall, and this is maybe the first time I’m glad I saw the show first. The novels are very Modernist in style; which some people might not like but I don’t mind. But there are occasional flashbacks within flashbacks, and combined with a large cast of characters, makes the reading experience confusing at times. If I hadn’t seen the TV show beforehand, I think I would have been lost; the constant jumping of time and characters was a little disorienting. However, once you get sucked into the plot it does grip you.
One of my favourite aspects of the novels is the characterisation. Tietjens is such a noble, intelligent yet irritatingly passive person. As a reader you are never sure how to feel about him; he is a bit of an enigma. This is obvious during The Last Post; Tietjens doesn’t make an appearance until near the end. He is seen, but only in other characters’ flashbacks so you never get to view things from his perspective. It leaves him as this shrouded, allusive figure at the end. During the first three novels you are given some insight into his personality – with varying responses. Sometimes I found him to be quite a noble, tragic figure; doing what he knows to be right and putting that above his own wants. Yet at other moments he is a doormat, other characters seem to steamroller over him and he doesn’t stand up for himself. He is such an interesting, yet frustrating, character.
His relationships with Sylvia and Valentine can also be described in a similar vein. Tietjens and Sylvia do love each other but it feels ‘wrong’. They can’t seem to communicate or give what the other person wants; leading to outbursts and infidelities, especially from Sylvia’s side. She admires her husband but is frustrated by him, and you can feel her conflicted emotions through the page. Tietjens and Valentine’s relationship has a different quality to it. Again, there is the admiration for one another but I was always uncertain about their love. They could truly love one another, but I think Ford leaves open other possibilities. Does Tietjens love Valentine because she is different from Sylvia? Does he put her on a pedestal, as someone who has qualities he may want? Is it simply a case of wanting what you can’t have? You are never really told, and the ending does nothing to solve these conflicts. Instead it is up to the reader to interpret what happened.
Whilst the heart of Parade’s End deals with this love triangle, it also explores the changing society around this period. Through the character of Valentine you see the struggle for women’s suffrage; but in general you witness class systems being broken down. Without going into spoilers, something happens to Groby, the Tietjens’ ancestral home, which encapsulates the downfall of the ruling class. I found that particular passage to be very moving yet it felt a satisfying conclusion to the story.
Overall, Parade’s End is a bit of a roller coaster. Entertaining at times, frustrating at others; characters about whom you are not entirely sure what to feel about; there is a lot to take in. But I do believe it is worth the time and effort as I came away reflecting on what I had read. I was still thinking about these characters a week after finishing; they linger in the mind for a while. It won’t be for everyone, but if you like historical novels or those set during the Great War, you might like Parade’s End.
Parade’s End is published by Penguin Modern Classics and you can find more information here.