Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Marriage Plot; Jeffrey Eugenides


Author:  Jeffrey Eugenides
Publication Year: 2011 
Publisher: Macmillian Audio 
Edition: audio book and Kindle Edition
Reader: David Pittu ( very good) 
Source: Amazon Vine
Date Completed: 11/1/2011
Setting: Rhode Island (mostly)
Rating: 4/5
Recommend: yes

A huge fan of Jeffrey Eugenide's earlier novels, The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex, I couldn't wait to get my hands on both the eBook and audio versions of his recent release The Marriage Plot.  Did I like his new novel? Yes, but.....

The Marriage Plot, for the most part takes place in Rhode Island, on the campus of Ivy League, Brown University, in 1982.  Madeleine Hanna, is a pretty girl from New Jersey. Her father is a College President, and her childhood was pretty normal.  At Brown she majored in English (Victorian Literature), because......."she loved books".  Her senior thesis is called:  "I Thought You'd Never Ask: Some Thoughts on the Marriage Plot." 

Opening paragraph of the novel
" To start with, look at all the books. There were her Edith Wharton novels, arranged not by title but date of publication; there was the complete Modern Library set of Henry James, a gift from her father on her twenty-first birthday; there were the dog-eared paperbacks assigned in her college courses, a lot of Dickens, a smidgen of Trollope, along with good helpings of Austen, George Eliot, and the redoubtable Bronte sisters.  There were a whole lot of black-and-white New Directions paperbacks, mostly poetry by people like H.D. or Denise Levertov.  There were the Colette novels she read on the sly.  There was the first edition Couples, belonging to her mother, which Madeleine had surreptitiously dipped into back in sixth grade and which she was using now to provide textual support in her English honors thesis on the marriage plot. There was, in short, this mid-size but still portable library representing pretty much everything Madeleine had read in college, a collection of texts, seemingly chosen at random, whose focus slowly narrowed, like a personality test, a sophisticated one you couldn't trick by anticipating the implications of its questions and finally got so lost in that your only recourse was to answer the simple truth. And then you waited for the result, hoping for 'Artistic,' or 'Passionate,' thinking you could live with 'Sensitive,' secretly fearing 'Narcissistic' and 'Domestic,' but finally being presented with an outcome that cut both ways and made you feel different depending on the day, the hour, or the guy you happened to be dating: 'Incurably Romantic. "

The real focus of the novel, however, is not on Madeleine and her books, but rather on Madeleine and the (2) young men who are trying to win her affections. It's 1982 and all (3) are graduating from Brown, and much like today, finding a job after college will be challenging.  The two men who are crazy about Madeleine are, Leonard Bankhead, who is brilliant in the classroom as well as the bedroom, he's handsome and charming as well.  He also comes from a poor family in Portland, Oregon and has battled mental illness (manic depression) since his teens. The two meet in a senior semiotics seminar, and immediately hit it off. 

Mitchell Grammaticus and Madeleine had met early on in freshman orientation, and have been good friends ever since.  Mitchell believes he and Madeline are meant to be together.  After graduation, Mitchell is off to Europe and India on a spiritual/religious journey, hoping to find himself and some meaning and direction in his life.  While in India, he even volunteers at a clinic in Calcutta founded by Mother Teresa.

Over the course of the next year, Madeleine, Leonard and Mitchell will face the harsh realities of the real world, and life beyond college. When they are reunited each  will see life in a different light.

I liked this novel, but didn't love it. The writing is very good and the story well constructed, but yet I became a bit bored at certain sections of the novel.  The portrait of Leonard's illness and his often crippling bouts of depression were very sad to read about, as was reading about Madeleine's struggle to be there for him, when he was at his worst and it was painful thing for her to witness. 

This is the type of book that will definitely get mixed reviews, for a variety of different reasons; although it wasn't perfect, I'm happy I read it. The audio book reader, was new to me, but did a very good job.

22 comments:

  1. I was looking for a Rhode Island book for a challenge and this would have been perfect, except that I'm 3/4 of the way through The Witches of Eastwick.

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  2. This book does seem like it might be a little slow and not as controversial as his past books. Sounds like I might like it though.

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  3. Although I liked Middlesex I'm still not sure I'll read this one - maybe down the road. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on it, Diane.

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  4. I am so mixed about reading this one. That's why I love reading reviews like yours to help push me into the skip-it zone! :--)

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  5. Completely agree...great assessment

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  6. I've loved Eugenides for so long that The Marriage Plot felt like a serious letdown, both thematically and narratively. That said, like you, I'm not unhappy to have spent time with it.

    What's even more disappointing is that it might be a DECADE before we see another Eugenides novel (seriously, he's like the Terence Malick of books).

    My full review can be found here: http://theoncominghope.blogspot.com/2011/11/book-review-jeffrey-eugenides-marriage.html

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  7. I am on the fence with this one. I want to love it, but the reviews have been so-so. I know I will read it at some point, but my urge to do so has sort of fizzled out for the moment.

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  8. I want this to be the next audio that I choose, but am concerned that it is such a mixed experience. I have loved the other books that I read from Eugenides, so I am a bit confused as to what happened to this one. Great and very honest review!

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  9. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. I thought he really nailed the sections on what it's like to be around someone who suffers from bipolar disorder/depression. The part that drug for me was the one set in India. The writing was so good though that I know I have to try one of his other books sometime soon.

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  10. A friend of m ine read it and wasn't impressed, another loved it - so I've heard mixed reviews of this one already. I wasn't overimpressed with Middlesex, so I'll probably give this one a miss.

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  11. I loved both the Virgin Suicides and Middlesex, so I'm a bit nervous about reading this one. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on it.

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  12. I had a similar reaction to you. I really loved the writing, but Leonard's illness was overpowering at times for me. Overall, I think it's quite good, but I stopped just short of loving it. I'm glad to hear the audio was still successful!

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  13. Wonderful review. I really liked this one, but it does feel slow in spots. I loved Middlesex and this one is just so different. I did love the character portrayals though and the writing is what hooked me in the end.

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  14. Like you, I am a big fan of Eugenides, so I was super excited to read this one. The beginning started out a bit slow but I am really enjoying it at this point and hope to finish it tonight or tomorrow.

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  15. This does sound intriguing, but I've still got Middlesex on my shelf (in hardcover, no less). Guess I'll read that first.

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  16. I'm glad that this book is good. I need to get my hands on Middlesex, which has been on my wishlist for ages.

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  17. I've been hemming and hawing over reading this. The plot just doesn't appeal to me. But, in the end, it is Jeffrey Eugenedies and it isn't like he is releasing books every year!

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  18. I liked it! Not as much as Middlesex, but way more than the Virgin Suicides.

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  19. I will be discussing this book tonight with the start of a new book club, hopefully I will post my review tomorrow morning (post discussion).

    Reading the first section I thought I made a mistake picking this book for us to read. It gets much better after the first 80-100 pages. I agree with you, there's something about the novel that I didn't love but when I finished reading it I was left satisfied.

    One of my friends loved it, two struggled to finish it. Should be a good conversation!

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  20. I really want to read this, but I just haven't been in the right mindset for it lately. Hopefully soon!

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  21. I'm still not sure about this one. Maybe I have to be in the right mood.

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  22. I was sent an audio copy of this as was excited to give it a listen but now I am not so anxious. This will be my first Eugenides novel.

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