Sunday, November 27, 2011

Book Review: The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

Title: The Marriage Plot
Author: Jeffrey Eugenides
Enjoyment Rating: 9/10
Referral: My friend Lyn read it before going to a Eugenides reading and said it was great
Source: Ordered new from Amazon
Books I've read this year: 149

It's not too uncommon for me to find bits of myself in the main character of a novel. After all, who writes books but people who like to read? But I really identified with Madeleine, the college senior English major at Brown in 1982, writing her thesis on the idea of the marriage plot in Regency/Victorian literature (I wrote my first MA thesis on many of the same authors Madeleine was studying). While Madeleine works on her thesis, she's involved in her own marriage plot-- she's dating Leonard, someone entirely unsuitable (mainly because he's struggling to get in control of his bipolar disorder, which is a bold move on Eugenides' part because it feels totally un-PC to have a character be unsuitable because of a mental illness), while a perfectly suitable boy, Mitchell, pines after her from afar (literally, he spends much of the book in Europe and India).

I didn't read the reviews on Amazon before I read the book, so I was a little bit surprised when I went on the website to pick up a picture to see that readers are only giving the book 3 1/2 stars (on average). All of the Amazon reviews seem to say that The Marriage Plot is too detailed-- we don't need so much insight into what everyone is thinking or to what Paris looked like in 1982. We don't need a twenty page description of what's happening at a party. But I've decided that when the authors have serious writing chops (and Eugenides does) I don't mind going all Victorian with them in terms of the details. I had a similar reaction to Elizabeth Kostova's books The Historian and The Swan Thieves, which people said was similarly mired in description. In fact, I always think these books are fantastic reads because the authors do such a good job creating a complete world. So it you like your description or your access to the characters' minds to be a little more limited, this might not be the book for you. But if you're willing to push through 400+ pages to come to what is really the only satisfying end to this marriage plot, then you just may be surprised at how much you enjoy the ride.


Kermit~the~Frog said...

So far I have hated every Eugenides book I have ever read, so I am gun shy about trying another. I agree that he writes well; I usually hate the plot or loathe the characters (or both). Has it the same feel as his other novels?

Shelah said...

It's been a long, long time since I read his other novels. I think Middlesex came out in 2003, and that's when I read both that and The Virgin Suicides. I remember really liking both, but I can't remember if it has the same feel or not. I do think that Madeleine is a pretty sympathetic character, despite her brattiness in the first chapter, so you might want to check it out of the library and read a couple of chapters before deciding to commit.