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It's the early s the country is in a deep recession and The Marriage Kindle life after college is harder than ever In the cafés on College Hill the wised up kids are inhaling Derrida and listening to the 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 Maruis de Sade who wrote about deflowering virgins in eighteenth century France real life in the form of two v Pretentious I try to stay away from this word reviewing books because too many of my favorites literary novels have been called that and it hurt But The Marriage Plot is pretentious And also pompous elitist privileged and self importantI just can t uite believe that the author who managed to make stories of 5 suicidal girls and a Greek hermaphrodite so compelling could come up with something like The Marriage Plot and think it a worthy tale to tell A rich freshly graduated from Brown English major girl waffling about reading Austen and trying to get laidfall in loveget married Really No amount of references to English lit semiotics and philosophy can elevate this story from its tritenessI mean truly who can relate to this novel about rich people s mundane dilemmas All these people do is show off their sophistication and education in front of each other and us readers and going through some kind of existential crises while being utterly removed from real world problems Someone on goodreads has compared The Marriage Plot to Eat Pray Love Right on the money if you ask me

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The Marriage Plot

Ery 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 In the days when success in life had depended on marriage and marriage had depended on money novelists had had a subject to write about The great epics sang of war the novel of marriage Sexual euality good for women had been bad for the novel And divorce had undone it completely By presenting us with a compelling and contemporary story I believe Jeffrey Eugenides uite successfully dispels the notion expressed above in The Marriage Plot The novel is very much alive and doing uite well here This is a razor sharp examination of literature love and the love triangle college life religion and mental illness It s a book full of ideas and at times it got slightly bogged down with some weightier literary discourse and theory but overall it held my attention and I found it rather fascinating I don t want to spend too much time on the plot but suffice it to say that it s about three college students about to graduate from Brown University in the early 1980s The easygoing Mitchell has been in love with Madeleine throughout his college career but Madeleine thus far is only interested in a friendship and on her own terms Leonard is the brooding and enigmatic individual not unlike some of the protagonists in Madeleine s favorite form of literature the Victorian novel Madeleine meets Leonard when she decides to branch out and take a course in semiotics a form of literary theory of signs and symbols that was becoming uite fashionable at Brown during this time Madeleine s love troubles had begun at a time when the French theory she was reading deconstructed the very notion of love What Madeleine doesn t realize as she falls in love is that Mitchell suffers from manic depression We then follow the trio on their subseuent journeys following college graduation As much as I couldn t relate directly to these characters and their particular experiences there was something about this novel that rang so true The time in life when one is finding his or herself falling in love and being rejected by the one you love the feeling that if you don t have the one then love will likely never come to you at all The depiction of a person struggling with mental illness and the effects this has on his or her loved ones was outstanding He felt as if he were being violently emptied out as if a big magnet were pulling his blood and fluids down into the earth It is an emotionally charged ride of highs and lows and those closest to the afflicted are drawn into the vicious cycle as well There comes a moment when you get lost in the woods when the woods begin to feel like home The further Leonard receded from other people the he relied on Madeleine and the he relied on her the deeper she was willing to follow While these two become ensnared in the reality of this hell Mitchell has taken off to Europe and Asia with a backpack and a desire to explore his spirituality His journey as he dabbles in various religions with an attempt to understand where he fits is eually fascinating This is not an in depth examination of theology much to my relief but a thought provoking look at both faith and doubt and provides some food for a bit of self reflection as well The three eventually come together once again and I was rather on edge wondering how Eugenides was going to handle what happens next I thought the ending was actually rather brilliant and I wish I could share a favorite uote from here but that would simply give too much away so I won tThe Marriage Plot is my second encounter with this author having just read the remarkable Middlesex several months ago and I really did like it a lot I never truly connected with any of the main characters although I could sympathize with some of their uestions and struggles and it did feel a bit esoteric particularly in the first portion However I found myself always wanting to get back to this book even during the holiday stress and of course the writing is uite exceptional For those reasons I have to give this one 4 stars Here are a few bookish uotes I loved She wanted a book to take her places she couldn t go herself She thought a writer should work harder writing a book than she did reading it When it came to letters and literature Madeleine championed a virtue that had fallen out of esteem namely clarity 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 Bront sisters Against tremendous odds without anyone giving them the right to take up the pen or a proper education women such as Anne Finch Jane Austen George Eliot the Bront s and Emily Dickinson had taken up the pen anyway not only joining in the grand literary project but if you could believe Gilbert and Gubar creating a new literature at the same time playing a man s game while subverting it

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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 uestions 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 I d loved the author s tour de force Middlesex and had recently worked through his anthology of short stories Fresh Complaint where I came across a tale that really interested me well in truth it spooked me a little too The story written in 1996 is called Air Mail and it concerns a young man called Mitchell who is suffering badly from a bout of diarrhoea whilst temporarily staying at a remote beach in Thailand The ending of the story is ambiguous did he just die I just didn t know and it played on my mind Then I discovered that Mitchell also featured in another work from the same author this novel and I had to get my hands on it It would help me unravel the fate of Mitchell whilst giving me another opportunity to appreciate the fine prose of this outstanding writer The Marriage Plot tells the story of three young people who studied at Brown University in the early 1980 s Madeleine Hanna the daughter of Waspish parents and a lover of Victorian novels is studying semiotics a subject uite hard to grasp but in essence it concerns the study of signs which can help a reader to look for clich s in language and the structure of novelsLeonard Bankhead a manic depressive science prodigy and philosophy student came to Brown having survived a tough upbringingMitchell Grammaticus a softly spoken and thoughtful religious scholar from a Greek American familyThe heart of the story is the relationship between these three in essence meditative Mitchell loves beautiful Madeleine but Madeleine loves the energetic and engaging Leonard But then there s a fourth person in the room in the shape of Leonard s mania which becomes an ever growing part of the the story as it works through Can he control his disorder through his daily doses of lithium or will it ultimately control him and drive his destiny And can Madeleine cope with his periods of frantic activity followed by phases of deep depression It s a roller coaster ride both for the characters in the book and I found for me as I became ever engaged in the lives of this groupWe follow their development as they leave Brown and start to experience life beyond its confines Madeleine accompanies Leonard to Cape Cod where he s accepted a biology fellowship and Mitchell sets off in the general direction of India with the aim of working in Mother Teresa s Home for the Dying As the story played out I confess I failed to warm to Madeleine who I found to be weak and indecisive but I grew to like the amiable reflective Mitchell a lot Most of all though I enjoyed Leonard in his manic moments When he s up he s funny and uick and clever I could fully see why Madeleine fell for him But when he s down it s a totally different story There are numerous literary references sprinkled throughout this novel and there s barely a moment when at least one of the three isn t reading ruminating on the worth of a book or discussing an aspect of a book s content with another It can feel like uite heavy going but for the most part I enjoyed the academic debates and verbal jousting I learnt uite a bit too I don t think I ll be reaching for a book by Michel Foucault or Jacues Derrida anytime soon but there might just come a time It s a clever and heartfelt study of three people seeking love and enlightenment and on this level alone it works But throw in the opportunity to feast on literary references ponder over the merits of various religious groups and learn of the reproductive ualities of yeast and you have a book like few others There s no doubt a significant autobiographical element to this book too given the similarities to the author s own family background Greek American like Mitchell and his studies at Brown also in the early 1980 s If you ve the time and the patience I d thoroughly recommend spending some time with this bookFootnote I was pleased to discover that Mitchell didn t after all die floating in the sea off a Thai beach he survived that episode It s not mentioned directly in this book written some 15 years after Air Mail but I was able to pinpoint the approximate point it would have featured in Mitchell s travels

10 thoughts on “The Marriage Plot

  1. says:

    Pretentious I try to stay away from this word reviewing books because too many of my favorites literary novels have been called that and it hurt

  2. says:

    Masterful on many levels At first I wasn't drawn to any of the three characters in the love triangle Madeleine Leo

  3. says:

    I'm convinced this is what happens if you combine a Whit Stillman script Franny and Zooey and a whole lot of beige There's some beautiful writ

  4. says:

    While there are passages that are beautiful in only the way Eugenides can write they act like flashes of brilliance in an otherwise dull and lazy novelThe first part of the book shoves Semiotics into your brain and reads like the most terrible and awkwardly pretentious college courses that no one should ever have to suffer And throughout it

  5. says:

    “The experience was like plowing through late James or the pages about agrarian reform in “Anna Karenina” until you suddenly got to a good part again which kept on getting better and better until you were so enthralled that you were almost grateful for the previous dull stretch because it increased your

  6. says:

    In the days when success in life had depended on marriage and marriage had depended on money novelists had had a subject to write a

  7. says:

    3 stars to Jeffrey Eugenides's The Marriage Plot My book club selected this a few years ago given they had all previously read Middlesex and The Virgin Suicides before I joined I've since moved and not with that book club any but I keep in touch with many of them I hadn't read either book but I did watch the mov

  8. says:

    I loved The Virgin Suicides for its style imagery and voice I loved Middlesex for its 'epic' storytelling its characters and a lyrical flight of fancy near the end that I think I'll never forget Because of the lofty standards the author's previous works set for me perhaps it is inevitable despite the trademark humor and intelligenc

  9. says:

    I’d loved the author’s tour de force Middlesex and had recently worked through his anthology of short stories Fresh Complaint where I came across a tale that really interested me – well in truth it spooked me a little too The story written in 1996 is called Air Mail and it concerns a young man called Mit

  10. says:

    Okay fine Jeffrey you win You made me care about these twenty something white college kids despite myself Setting certain