The Marriage Plot

Eugenides, Jeffrey

Book - 2011
Average Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5.
The Marriage Plot
A New York Times Notable Book of 2011 A Publisher's Weekly Top 10 Book of 2011 A Kirkus Reviews Top 25 Best Fiction of 2011 Title One of Library Journal 's Best Books of 2011 A Salon Best Fiction of 2011 title One of The Telegraph 's Best Fiction Books of the Year 2011 It's the early 1980s--the country is in a deep recession, and life after college is harder than ever. In the cafés on College Hill, the wised-up kids are inhaling Derrida and listening to Talking Heads. But Madeleine Hanna, dutiful English major, is writing her senior thesis on Jane Austen and George Eliot, purveyors of the marriage plot that lies at the heart of the greatest English novels. As Madeleine tries to understand why "it became laughable to read writers like Cheever and Updike, who wrote about the suburbia Madeleine and most of her friends had grown up in, in favor of reading the Marquis de Sade, who wrote about deflowering virgins in eighteenth-century France," real life, in the form of two very different guys, intervenes. Leonard Bankhead--charismatic loner, college Darwinist, and lost Portland boy--suddenly turns up in a semiotics seminar, and soon Madeleine finds herself in a highly charged erotic and intellectual relationship with him. At the same time, her old "friend" Mitchell Grammaticus--who's been reading Christian mysticism and generally acting strange--resurfaces, obsessed with the idea that Madeleine is destined to be his mate. Over the next year, as the members of the triangle in this amazing, spellbinding novel graduate from college and enter the real world, events force them to reevaluate everything they learned in school. Leonard and Madeleine move to a biology Laboratory on Cape Cod, but can't escape the secret responsible for Leonard's seemingly inexhaustible energy and plunging moods. And Mitchell, traveling around the world to get Madeleine out of his mind, finds himself face-to-face with ultimate questions about the meaning of life, the existence of God, and the true nature of love. Are the great love stories of the nineteenth century dead? Or can there be a new story, written for today and alive to the realities of feminism, sexual freedom, prenups, and divorce? With devastating wit and an abiding understanding of and affection for his characters, Jeffrey Eugenides revives the motivating energies of the Novel, while creating a story so contemporary and fresh that it reads like the intimate journal of our own lives.

Publisher: New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011.
Edition: 1st ed.
ISBN: 0374203059
Characteristics: 406 p. ;,24 cm.


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Dec 02, 2014
  • Lucky_Luke rated this: 2.5 stars out of 5.

Love triangle, academia, mental illness - this novel has all the true markings of a great one.

Nov 16, 2014
  • LucasHill rated this: 2.5 stars out of 5.

Decent, but rather disappointing in comparison to The Virgin Suicides and, especially, Middlesex.

Oct 16, 2014
  • vholda225 rated this: 2 stars out of 5.

Really boring. I've heard good things about his other books but this was not good. I'm about 100 pages in and the book keeps putting me to sleep. I don't like giving up on books so maybe I'll come back to it later but this is just...a bad book.

Oct 07, 2014
  • PCimba rated this: 0.5 stars out of 5.

I loved "Middlesex" so I was really looking forward to this book. After 2 attempts, I have finally given up.

Sep 13, 2013
  • ParnassusReads rated this: 2 stars out of 5.

As a former English major & grad student, I’m a big fan of books about academia, especially if it’s about other English majors. I finally picked up Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Marriage Plot after finding it in hard cover at a book warehouse sale for super cheap. The novel primarily follows Madeline, a college graduate writing her senior thesis on the 19th-century marriage plots of Jane Austen & co. At least that’s what the jacket says. What this novel is really about is living with someone who is manically depressed and the use of lithium to treat it in the 80s. In college, where the novel starts, Madeline has two suitors, one an introverted, sensitive The Marriage Plotboy named Mitchell and the other the grungy, intelligent but manic Leonard. Madeline only likes Mitchell when she needs him, and falls hopelessly in love with Leonard. Every now and then we get sections from the two boys’ perspectives; Leonard, as he sinks into depression and then as he experiments with Lithium doses, and Mitchell, as he treks across India and Europe the summer after graduating. Madeline chooses Leonard, for better or worse.

The so-called “plot” is not worthy of its allusion and is summed up nicely by Mitchell for a tidy ending, where everyone at least has the chance for happiness and no one ends up together (is that really a spoiler when you can see it coming from the second chapter?). But the novel is clearly supposed to be a character study, or a study on what mental illness in relationships can look like. The problem is that the characters are unable to carry the novel because they are almost wholly unsympathetic. Great fiction can feature unlikeable characters, as long as they are compelling or as long as the author can make the reader care about them or what happens to them in some way (or in some cases, only because the prose is just that amazing). That is not the case here. Madeline is shallow and frequently whiney, while Leonard is fairly flat and predictable, as are all of the secondary characters. Mitchell is the most interesting, but he is ultimately insufferable in his own way too.

The narrative is likewise insufferable. It’s bogged down by flashback after flashback that are supposed to reveal character and motivation, but are really only info dumps that become increasingly frustrating. The writing is pedestrian and frankly, boring. There is far too much extraneous information weighing it down. At one crucial point, when Madeline goes to check her mailbox for a Yale acceptance, Eugenides details the specific route she took for no other reason than to waste space and attempt to build anticipation. It has the opposite effect; by the time she turned left down the hallway on the right to reach the mailroom, I did not care at all what was in that mailbox. And it’s too bad too, because Madeline’s only concept of her future hinges on that one letter.

I fully admit to skipping and skimming frequently through this novel, something I rarely do. In fact, I only do it when I know that if I skip ahead, the narrative will likely be in almost the same spot, thanks to extraneous flashbacks. I really did not miss much in the 200 pages I skipped, but went back and skip-skimmed around anyway, just to be sure. The Marriage Plot is a general waste of reading time. For a real coming of age through academia and personal issues amidst privilege and opportunity, read Gloria by Keith Maillard.

Sep 13, 2013
  • Meeeeeee rated this: 3 stars out of 5.

If you like to read the background of charaters then this book is for you.

Jul 15, 2013

so disappointing esp. after middlesex. memorable only in its disappointment.

Jan 14, 2013
  • crankylibrarian rated this: 4.5 stars out of 5.

Truly as wonderful as the reviews and its reputation suggest. 3 highly intelligent, yet flawed Brown University grads cope with their expectations for life and love, while coming to grip with their own shortcomings. A beautiful novel.

Jan 07, 2013

Ugh. The writing was beautiful and filled with fantastic detail, but I put it away halfway through because I just couldn't get behind ANY of the characters. I actually hated the three main ones and couldn't stomach spending time with them when there are so many other great characters/stories out there.

So, it's a preference thing. If you're okay with reading minute details about people you may strongly dislike in real life, then I would recommend this book. Otherwise, pass.

Dec 28, 2012
  • megaculpa rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

Tragic and hilarious by turns, with three compelling characters, a semester's worth of ideas and a magical sense of time and place. What more could one ask for in a novel?

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Dec 13, 2011
  • brendotroy rated this: 4.5 stars out of 5.

brendotroy thinks this title is suitable for 17 years and over


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