Thursday, 23 February 2012

A Year in Books 2012 - The Marraige Plot

Jeffrey Eugenides first 2 novels , the Virgin Suicides and Middlesex have been on my must get round to reading list for ages, but for some reason they always got discarded in the 3 for 2 hunt at Waterstones.

The Marriage Plot, his third book, has been a tad over hyped but unlike Jonathan Franzen's Freedom , this one is well worth it.

The plot centres around the classic love triangle. Boy 1 (Mitchell) loves Girl (Madeleine) who wants to be best friends because she hasn't really ever had a real male friend and anyway she loves boy 2 (Leonard) who ...suffers from manic depression. Okay so maybe it isn't the classic love triangle structure and that is what makes the book so good. The plot continually veers off into unexpected places.

We meet the 3 characters on the day that they are due to graduate and first journey back though each of their histories that brings them to this point and the major decisions they make, the actions they take and the consequences that ripple forward into their futures. We then follow the 3 of them, Mitchell to Europe and then India helping in Mother Teresa's hospital and struggling with theology, Leonard to a place as a lab technician in highly regarded scientific community and struggling with his illness, Madeleine to caring for Leonard and struggling with her love for him.

On one level the book is a straight forward relationship study with situations that are instantly recognisable  on the other level it is very smart , to the extent that some of the early chapters with Madeleine studying Semiotics had me feeling distinctly thick and regretting I didn't do English at Poly.

All 3 of the characters are rich and complex and if not exactly likable, they do create a sense of empathy, aided by Eugenides tendency to jump back and forth in time.

The title comes from the theory that marriage was the dominant theme of 19th century fiction , that it was the only successful route to closure for women, either to live happily ever after or to a life of endurance. With that in mind the ending is just so spot on that leaves a great sense of satisfaction, like being pleasnatly full after a good meal

A book that engages , entertains and enlightens , what more could you ask for.

You can buy the Marriage Plot here  


  1. 'Middlesex' in my pile too but my hand rests on it then moves on; strange what makes up pick things up and commit; could it be something as simple as the cover?
    Btw, you turned me on to 'One Day' a while back which that same hand flitted over (it was in Di's pile) but I'm glad that I rested there; once I engaged I really liked the characters; thought she was very funny.
    Sad to report that I watched the film last night and (for me) it was... pants! I felt nothing for the two protagonists and can't remember laughing once. Anne Hathaway's northern accent was almost as bad as Russell Crowe's in Robin Hood; Dick Van Dyke's got a lot to answer for.
    The denouement is as shocking as in the book; but not as heartbreaking because at that point... you don't really care. The film also lingers too long (like the book) after the... incident. Thought that it was a strangely extended epilogue at the time of reading.
    Any thoughts on the Oscars?
    I haven't seen The Artist or Hugo yet; but am surprised that 'Drive' doesn't feature...

  2. hi Trev

    I'll probably end up watching one day but havent heard a good word said about it especially from people who love the book.

    I've not seen the artist yet but like you thought it a shame that drive didnt get more of a mention especially as Extremely loud got a nod but i havent seen a good review of that yet either.

    I really hope Gary oldman wins although i think the artist will clean up

    the whole film /book thing is a funny one the book is almost always better (I can only think of Betty Blue where the opposite is true for me) and so I try and read the book before seeing the film. Also once you've seen the film when you read the book it is difficult to put that actor out of your mind. This really hit home when I read Get Shorty recently. U've not seen the film and yet such is the power that everytime Chilli Palmer appears I couldnt shake John Travoltas cheesy grin out of my head!

    If you canit is worth tracking down the book Hugo is based on. It is abeautiful hardback with minimal words and a story told through fantastic drawings with one image per page.

  3. Book better than film?
    Sounds like the subject for a blog; in fact, will post this tomorrow...
    How about:
    The Godfather
    Once Upon a Time in America (originally the novel: The Hoods)
    Winter's Bone (close call, as the book is great)
    No Country For Old Men (I love Cormac McCarthy but adored the fleshy characters of the film.)
    LA Confidential: Watched again recently and the convolutions all started to make sense; Ellroy always bombards with names and riffy verbiage that I initially loved (Blue Dahlia) but eventually got a bit weary of...

  4. Good call on the Godfather
    I've not read Winter's bone but loved the film so the book whould have to go some to top it

    La Confidential I'd make that a tie

    I'm going to seatch the bookshelves when I get home now

    Thinking about it I like Unbearable Lightness of Being better as a film and The Commitments
    although both of these the films were better than great books whereas with Betty Blue i just thought the book was a bit crap

  5. See, once you start...
    I googled 'Films Better than Books' and the different offerings seem to note the usual suspects (the cliche, not the film) that I've blogged about today; seems that I don't have a singular pallet...
    'Children of Men' is an interesting one that oft appears; I loved the film, found it moving, I even gulped a bit when Michael Caine got his bloody doors blown off...

  6. Btw, I hope that you don't mind me nicking this chat for my blog...
    It's a great topic; I can hear Toronto Tim's pencil sharpener from here.
    Come on Tim, what have you got?
    One of the great pub discussion topics along with 'Beatles or Stones?', 'The meaning of Art', and
    "I'm not a racist but... I watched 'Schindler's List' and that Hitler, he was a right bastard but I think he had a point" (I heard that, really...)

  7. I didnt know beaconsfield has such scary pubs!
    Again I'v enot read Children of men but really like dthe film - going to see if I can come up with others for your post

  8. Yup, the guy's nose touched his chin...


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